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