F-27 Crash Manila Bay

LIA owner denies there was sabotage

By Teddy Molina
The Philippine Star 11/14/2002

LAOAG CITY – Laoag International Airlines (LIA) owner Paul Ng retracted yesterday his claim that sabotage was the cause of Monday’s crash of his Fokker-27 plane that resulted in the death of 19 passengers.

"I was not able to catch on the right phrase during the (Tuesday) interview. That was not what I meant," Ng said, retracting his claim that business rivals put water in the aircraft’s fuel tank, causing it to crash on Manila Bay.

Ng stressed that he and his airline will cooperate with aviation authorities in the ongoing investigation of the crash of Flight 585.

"We will cooperate with the investigators and get (to) the bottom of the incident," he told reporters at his seaside mansion in Barangay Calaba here.

Ng also belied reports that his company failed to fulfill the commitment it made to modernize when it was applying for its congressional franchise.

He said LIA has upgraded its fleet with the acquisition of two Fokker-100 planes and has succeeded in "dominating" the Manila-Laoag-Batanes route.

A crane lifts the wreckage of Laoag International Airlines Fokker 27 from Manila Bay but its tail section, which contains the so-called ‘black box,’ still has not been found.

LIA is also the ground handler of a Chinese airline at the Laoag International Airport where it flies three times a week from Kaoshiung, Taiwan.

Ng said LIA has helped boost tourism in Ilocos Norte and the rest of Northern Luzon.

Ng is married to a Chinese Ilocana who operates a drugstore and a dollar remittance center, and used to own a classy bar-restaurant here named Airways.

Earlier yesterday at the House of Representatives, Rep. Imee Marcos (KBL, Ilocos Norte) urged Ng to name the people he claimed sabotaged the Fokker-27 plane.

"That is a very serious allegation," Marcos said. "He should give proof by naming whoever among his competitors he thinks was behind this dreadful incident."

She said if Ng cannot prove his claim, he should shut up and not try to muddle the investigation into the crash by "peddling the sabotage yarn."

She said the airline owner should allow investigators to do their job without being distracted by accusations that cannot be supported with evidence.

Marcos also urged Ng to extend full assistance to the families of crash victims as she has received complaints that Ng and other airline managers "were neglecting their duty to take care of these families."

In the Senate, Sen. Ramon Magsaysay assailed the claim of Ng and said that if the claim were true, LIA should have implemented security measures prior to the flight.

The airline management, Magsaysay said, was "equally liable under the alleged circumstances and this only pointed to gross negligence on the part of management, said Magsaysay, whose father, President Ramon Magsaysay, died when his plane "Pinatubo" crashed on Mt. Manunggal in Cebu in March 1957.

Magsaysay said he was calling for an "independent and thorough" investigation of the tragedy, saying the Air Transportation Office (ATO) may not be able to render an impartial and unbiased report. He did not elaborate.

He said investigators into the plane crash could tap the services of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Senate President Franklin Drilon said a congressional inquiry of the plane crash has been referred to the Senate committee on public services as a result of a privilege speech delivered by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Drilon said the committee would look into reports that the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) granted LIA an operating permit even without a franchise from Congress.

Last Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III revealed that LIA was operating by virtue of an executive order issued by then President Fidel Ramos even before it received a congressional franchise in 2001. – With Jess Diaz, Sammy Santos

Thursday, November 14, 2002


‘Junk’ parts for Laoag Air

Shipment from Germany was ‘unserviceable’

By Ferdinand G. Patinio, Correspondent

CUSTOMS authorities at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) seized last week a shipment to the Laoag International Airlines (LIA) of aircraft parts, including engines after they found only “junk” and “unserviceable” items.

Customs officials held the release of the shipment because one of the invoice papers did not have a serial number.

The shipment arrived from Germany last October and was to have been released last Nov. 8 to the consignee, LIA.

Customs examiners declared the shipment contained “junk” and “unserviceable” parts which explained why the taxes imposed amounted to only P50,000.

“We found them to be only junk,” according to a Customs examiner.

One of the airline’s Fokker planes crashed into the Manila Bay last Monday, killing 19 of the 35 people aboard.

Air Transportation Office (ATO) chief Adelberto Yap yesterday refuted the claim of LIA chairman Paul Ng that the crash of Flight 585 was an act of sabotage.

Interviewed by ABS-CBN on Monday, Yap said he strongly suspects that water was added to the fuel of the Fokker, causing its right engine to stall minutes after the plane took off from the Manila Domestic Airport.

Yesterday, Ng denied his claim that the plane was sabotaged, saying he was misquoted.

Yap said the plane had loaded aviation gas from the same tank where the planes of Air Philippines and Cebu Pacific had gassed up on Monday.

“I doubt very much if the LIA plane was sabotaged because the planes of the two other airlines gassed up at the same gas tank on that same day,” he said.

The airline also denied that it submitted spurious documents to get a clearance to operate.

In a telephone interview,  Alvin Yater, LIA assistant vice president for sales and marketing, said all the documents they submitted to  ATO, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) are legal.

“Our company would not be allowed to operate in the first place if we are holding fake documents,” Yater said.

LIA has been flying to Tuguegarao, Batanes and Ilocos Norte for the last six years. It also has charter flights to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Representatives of Rolls Royce of London, the manufacturer of the Fokker’s engines, have arrived to help the ATO investigate the crash.

Cris Dovall of Rolls Royce flew in from Malaysia where he is based. The ATO is also waiting for Fokker representatives.

The Senate is preparing its own inquiry into the crash.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III yesterday said the probe should address the question of whether the company made any effort to modernize its fleet as it had promised during the Senate.

Sotto, who was chairman of the Se-nate Committee on Public Services that approved LIA’s franchise April last year, said that during the congressional hearings Ng presented a modernization plan that included the purchase of 737-200s and Air 200s.

An executive order from then President Ramos paved the way for LIA to operate even before Congress approved its franchise.

Sotto warned that if the public services committee, now headed by Joker Arroyo, finds that LIA failed to modernize its fleet, the Senate would have no choice but to revoke its franchise.

In the House, Rep. Florencio Abad (Liberal Party, lone district of Batanes) yesterday filed a resolution seeking an investigation to determine the airworthiness of all LIA aircraft.

Abad said the House committees on transportation and communications and legislative franchises should conduct the inquiry.

Committee on transportation and communication chair Rep. Jacinto Paras (Negros Oriental, 1st district) said his committee will also look into the “possible negligence and connivance” between the ATO and the owners of LIA.

Paras also instructed his committee to verify reports that the pilot, Bernie Crisostomo, “forged” his flight safety certificate which he submitted to ATO in September 1999 showing that he completed the course “King Air B200 Recurrent” at the  Flight Safety International School in Long Beach, California.

Even committee on legislative franchise chair Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri said ATO and the Civil Aeronautics Board officials would be summoned to answer issues about LIA’s operation.
With Jonathan Vicente, Karl B. Kaufman, Sheryll B. Casanova, Joshua Dancel and Cheryl M. Arcibal

Are our airlines safe?

ROSES AND THORNS by Alejandro R. Roces
The Philippine Star 11/14/2002

There was a time when Philippine air travel had a very high reputation for both safety and service. That was when Philippine Airlines started operations shortly after liberation. Now, going by the plane that crashed in Manila Bay last Monday, air travel in the Philippines depends entirely on which airline you take.

The first question we raise is: Why the Laoag Airlines is called the Laoag International Airline? From everything that we have read, all its flights were limited to the country and it had no less than three air crashes during its short period of operation. One claimed the life of a Batanes town mayor. Another took place in Mactan International Airport. Going by published reports, the LIA is operating with only three 40 year-old F-27 Fokker planes. Again going by reports, the LIA initially bought four planes, but one had to be cannibalized to furnish the spare parts vitally needed by the other three. With the loss of the plane that crashed in Manila Bay, it leaves them with just two planes. You can’t have an efficient maintenance crew to service just two planes.

If the United States and United European countries issue a warning to their tourists to avoid air travel in the Philippines, it would be disastrous to our tourism industry. But air crashes like the one that happened last Monday makes one wonder just how safe air travel is in our islands. We can’t afford to grant licenses to fly-by-night airline operators.

According to Ilocos Rep. Imee Marcos, she had been complaining to the Air Transportation Office on the airworthiness of the three F-27 Fokker planes of the Laoag International Airlines. Not only were her complaints ignored, the Air Transportation Office even allowed the LIA to expand its operations to Batanes, Tuguegarao and Leyte. Residents of Laoag were the very first to avoid taking LIA flights. This partly explains why there were no casualties from Ilocos Norte in last Monday’s tragedy.

An investigation into the cause of the LIA plane crash is definitely in order. What the investigation should establish in whether substandard airlines are allowed to operate in the country. There should be no compromise when public safety is involved. To begin with, we don’t lack good airlines in the country. And even no air service is better than unsafe air travel. If anything, we hope that last Monday’s tragedy results in the stricter supervision of airlines.


Still no 585 ‘black box’

By Nestor Etolle
The Philippine Star 11/14/2002

Manila Bay’s murky waters continued to hamper the search for the flight data and voice recorders — the so-called "black box" — of Laoag International Airlines (LIA) Flight 585, which could shed light on why the plane crashed last Monday.

Coast Guard salvage workers retrieved yesterday the main part of the twin-engine Fokker-27 commuter plane from the bay, allowing inspection of the wreckage to begin, officials said.

The nose and one of the propeller blades appeared to be damaged as workers loaded the wreckage on a barge. The tail section of the plane, which contains the flight data and voice recorders, however, has not yet been recovered.

The aircraft broke apart and sank in about 15 to 20 meters (50 to 60 feet) of water when it crashed. Coast Guard commander Vice Adm. Reuben Lista said divers were hampered by mud churned up by the wreckage.

"We will continue our search until we are able to locate the tail," Lista said.

Air Transportation Office chief Adelberto Yap said investigators from the ATO, the British engine company Rolls-Royce, and Dutch aircraft maker Fokker will begin inspecting the wreckage. Rolls-Royce made the engines of the plane.

"They are going to make a cursory inspection and at the same time they will try to retrieve" the flight data and voice recorders, Yap said.

Two days after the crash, the salvage team, using huge cranes and ropes, was able to lift the main body of the aircraft from the bay onto a barge.

On Tuesday, rescuers recovered the last five bodies from the crash site, bringing the final death toll to 19, including three Australians and three Britons. Fifteen people, including two Australians, survived the crash.

Flight 585 took off at 6:06 a.m. Monday from the Manila Domestic Airport with 34 people on board for a regularly scheduled flight to Laoag City in Ilocos Norte, about an hour away.

It lost contact with the control tower three minutes later.

Yap said the recorders will be sent to the United States or Europe for transcription once they are found.

He said investigators are focusing on the possibility that one of the plane’s engines failed, based on statements of the pilots who survived and amateur video of the aircraft just before it crashed.

Australian survivor Steve Thompson said he saw smoke coming from the left engine just before the pilot told passengers to brace for impact.

"It means maybe the engine quit," so the pilot may have started a return to the runway, Yap said.

Yap doubted the claim of LIA chairman Paul Ng that the plane might have been sabotaged by rivals. Ng said the plane’s fuel might have been diluted with water.

However, Ng yesterday denied saying the plane was sabotaged, claiming that he was misquoted by reporters.

"I doubt very much if the Laoag International Airlines Fokker 27 plane was sabotaged because the planes of both Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines were gassed up by the same gas tank on that particular day," Yap said.

Rolls-Royce official Chris Devall said the investigation would be "problematic" if the flight data and voice recorders, which could indicate what went wrong before the plane went down, were not found.

Even if the recorders were found, the investigation could take "a few months," he said.

Devall refused to comment on reports that the crash was caused by engine failure. "It is too early to speculate on such allegations. Rest assured that we will look at all angles on the possible cause of the crash," Devall told reporters.

DOTC forms probe panel

Upon orders from President Arroyo, Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza has formed a five-member fact-finding board to determine if the ATO committed lapses that contributed to the crash.

Mendoza gave the panel until Nov. 30 to submit their "findings on the probable and proximate causes of the tragedy and their recommendations to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in the future."

Mendoza appointed Undersecretary Arturo Valdez to head the probe panel

"I told Larry Mendoza that the investigation must be elevated to him. I have talked to him this morning so he is constituting a board at the level of the department to investigate the accident," Mrs. Arroyo told a press conference.

She also said Mendoza may recommend the suspension of LIA’s license to operate. "Larry told me he is prepared to recommend that," Mrs. Arroyo said. "I support my secretary’s technical recommendations."

The ATO had grounded LIA’s remaining four aircraft, all Fokker 27s, pending the results of the investigation. Other local airlines are reportedly vying to serve LIA’s Manila-Laoag route.

Mrs. Arroyo added that the government was "continuously upgrading" aviation safety procedures and that she ordered the Department of Budget and Management two months ago to release P35 million for the training of air safety inspectors.

The ATO is a government agency under the supervision of the Department of Transportation and Communications. .

"All planes, particularly passenger ones, should be checked thoroughly before they are cleared for takeoff," he said.

Mendoza earlier ordered the ATO to expand aviation safety measures to avoid future crashes.

"We want to find out if there is negligence on the part of Laoag International Airlines which ultimately led to the crash and we want to determine what actions can be taken by the department to ensure the safety of planes operating in the country to protect passengers," Mendoza said.

Meanwhile, Lista said the Coast Guard will award citations to several fishermen who rushed to the crash site and helped save the passengers.

"At least, they will have something (a citation plaque) to hang on their walls and be proud about," he said. It was not immediately known how many will be honored.

Most of the 15 survivors were plucked from the sea by the fishermen. If not for them, Lista said more people could have died. "Truly, they are the unsung heroes in those difficult times. For without them, the death toll could have been higher," he said.

Lista acknowledged that Coast Guard rescuers took 40 minutes to reach the crash site but said there was reason for the delay.

"We still had to prepare our personnel, their diving gear, rubber boats and even the search and rescue vessel, the BRP EDSA II, before we plunged into operation. Of course, it took us quite some time," he said. "But we compensated for the delay by calling on the radio all ships and yachts that were at sea at that time to assist in the rescue." — With Jose Aravilla, Marichu Villanueva, Non Alquitran, Rey Arquiza, AFP and AP


'Flying coffins' had shocking safety record

By Philip Cornford and Lee Glendinning
November 13 2002

"They had been great friends for years through school, surfing and their girlfriends" ... from left, brothers Tim and Sam Coddington, Nick Wright, John Benson and Darren Green.

The aircraft in which five Australian surfers died was a "flying coffin" owned by a debt-ridden airline with a shocking safety record, a Manila newspaper claimed yesterday.

Eighteen people died when a Fokker 27 aircraft owned by Laoag International Airline (LIA) crashed into Manila Bay three minutes after take-off on Monday morning.

Steve Thompson, 25, was the only one of a group of six Australian mates on a surfing trip to survive the crash.

The deaths of brothers Tim and Sam Coddington, 26 and 24, Darren Green 23, Nick Wright, 24 and John Benson, 24, had left their friends and family heartbroken, a relative said yesterday.

Rick Everingham, an uncle of the Coddington boys, told how all five were happy in their jobs, had girlfriends and had been friends for years.

"All five boys have left behind lovely girlfriends who are devastated by the accident, as are their parents," he said.

Filipino air safety authorities have grounded LIA's three remaining Fokker 27s and promised to investigate the allegations by the newspaper, the Philippine Star.

Investigators revealed the pilot, captain Bernie Crisostomo, made a distress call moments after take-off, reporting engine trouble and saying he would attempt an emergency landing on a public boulevard on reclaimed land in Manila Bay.

A Filipino politician, Imee Marcos, demanded sanctions on the airline, claiming the authorities had ignored warnings about LIA's safety record.

"Despite these warnings, the airline was allowed to expand its operations," Ms Marcos said.

Tony Casimiro, manager of radio station Bombo Radyo, told the Star LIA's planes had been involved in three crashes at two local airports.

He said the mayor of Batanes was killed in one of the crashes, leading local residents to call the Fokkers "flying coffins".

"Unless one's trip is of extreme emergency, I can't recall anyone taking LIA," he told the newspaper.

Another politician, Roque Ablan, a licensed pilot, accused LIA of flying aircraft manufactured in the 1960s.

Asked the age of the aircraft, LIA vice-president Alvin Yater replied: "Thirty plus".

Mr Ablan said the Fokkers were first owned by Philippine Airlines, who sold them to the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

The PAF sold them to a New Zealand company who franchised them to LIA, he said.

The airline was registered to carry passengers and freight on February 24, 1995, with its licence effective for 50 years.

Mr Everingham said the men surfed together, drank together, grew up together and had a lot of fun together.

They had saved hard all year and tailored their work schedules so they could get time off work together.

The group all came from Sydney, except Nick Wright, of Brisbane, who worked as a passenger services officer with Queensland Rail.

They flew to Manila on Sunday morning and had planned to stay at a popular surfing hotel, Badoc Island Resort, for a few weeks.

Another Australian, Bryan Forrester, 40, who is believed to be working in Manila, also survived the crash.

Mr Everingham said Tim and Sam "loved their sport, in particular surfing".

"Tim had recently returned from a surfing trip in Mexico and Sam from Samoa some 12 months ago.

"They had successful careers that they really loved - Tim as a carpenter/builder and Sam as an assistant cameraman at Channel Ten."

Mr Everingham said the ties between the six were strong.

"They had been great friends for years through school, surfing and their  girlfriends."


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