Friday, August 24, 2012

Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II, Aviatour Air, RP-C4431: off Masbate, Philippines

The body of 22 year-old Kshitiz Chand (shown in photo) of the ill-fated plane that crashed on Aug. 20, 2012, off Masbate City, was retrieved by fishermen on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. 

Student pilot Kshitiz Chand may have panicked at the first sign of engine trouble and caused him to mishandle the ill-fated Piper Seneca aircraft that carried Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and his aide, Senior Insp. June Paolo Abrazado.

According to Cesar Lucero, special investigator 1 of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), Capt. Jessup Bahinting, the owner of the aircraft and flying school Aviatours, would have faced a string of charges had he survived the plane crash.

“Nepalese pilot Chand was the one occupying the left side of the cockpit after Capt. Bahinting was found seated on the right seat when he was retrieved by the technical divers 180 feet beneath Masbate Sea,” Lucero said during a weekly news forum in Quezon City on Friday.

Citing the initial results of their probe, Lucero said that it seemed Bahinting was not the one flying the plane since being a highly-skilled and experienced pilot as he was, he could have switched on all the emergency buttons before gliding the plane to safety.

The CAAP prober added that had Bahinting been on the main pilot seat, he could have safely crash landed into the sea and radioed for rescue.

“Malamang nag-panic na yung Nepalese pilot dahil kulang pa sa experience [It seems the Nepalese pilot panicked because he lacked experience],” he said.

Double compensation

Lucero also disclosed that Bahinting could have made a double compensation from his last flight because a student pilot pays P27,500 for every flight hour on the main pilot seat which is on the left side of the cockpit. Besides, Robredo paid for their air fare.

“Double compensation yan. Kita ka na sa student pilot who is after to complete the 10-hours required flights to familiarize the Piper Seneca, kita ka pa kay Secretary Robredo na pasahero nya [It’s double compensation. He earned from the student pilot who paid to complete his 10-hours required flights to familiarize the Piper Seneca and from Secretary Robredo who was a passenger],” Lucero pointed out.

Bahinting was chief executive officer of Aviatours, which operates a flying school and air taxi.

Lucero said that Bahinting should not have allowed his co-pilot to occupy the left seat of the plane because it is exclusively for the senior pilot if the plane is being used as air taxi or during commercial flight.

He said that Aviatours violated Civil Air Regulations part 8 that prohibits any air taxi to allow student pilots to be on the pilot seat whenever the aircraft is being used for commercial purposes.

Lucero stressed that the same incident happened to another plane of Aviatours that crashed in Camiguin province earlier this year. Transportation Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd ordered the suspension of Aviatours but the company blamed the incident on the prevailing weather condition at that time.

Distress calls

According to Lucero, there were two distress calls made by the pilot, one received by the control tower at Cebu City minutes after they took off and the second was received by the control tower of Masbate airport.

Bahinting, who was also an aircraft mechanic, was known to have used second hand and reconditioned engines and plane parts.

Besides Lucero, an inspection by the three-man Aircraft Accident Investigation and Inquiry Board investigating team of the CAAP indicated that the emergency location transmitter (ELT) of the Piper Seneca plane was in the off position, explaining why it failed to activate upon the plane’s impact off the waters of Masbate on August 18.

CAAP Director General William Hotchkiss 3rd said that prior to the accident, the plane’s ELT was functioning well when they conducted, regular routine check.

An ELT is a plane device that automatically activates when a plane encounters emergency landing or any disaster. CAAP last checked the plane’s ELT on November 21, 2011 and is valid for operation within a year.

Missing engine

The ELT was found with the plane wreckage on Wednesday but the right engine of the plane is yet to be recovered. The plane wreckage is now under tight security at Masbate airport.

“The engine is a key part of our investigation. This will determine if indeed it was due to technical or mechanical problem that caused it to fail,” Hotchkiss said.

Hotchkiss also dismissed speculations that diluted aviation fuel was used by the plane that caused the fatal crash. He said that premature conjectures like this will not help CAAP’s investigation.

The Board is also reconstructing the flight path of the ill-fated plane including communication between control towers and the pilot. CAAP has also taken the statements of key witnesses and will issue subpoena to others to shed light on the incident.

Hotchkiss also said that CAAP will look into the unsafe practices of aviation firms that enable them in the past to continue operating in spite of getting involved in previous plane accidents.

PNP probe

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said also on Friday that it is ready to assist in the investigation.

Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr., PNP spokesman, said that the police are ready to provide any kind of assistance to the CAAP.

Cerbo said that they will help in securing evidence and making available witness or witnesses in the accident.

“The PNP is ready to help in the investigation and we will ensure the available of Abrazado,” Cerbo told reporters in Camp Crame.

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