Inquiry starts into VIP plane crash

Posted on August 23, 2012

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The investigation into last Saturday’s crash of the twin-engine plane that claimed the lives of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and two pilots will start as soon as the wreckage is raised from the bottom of the Masbate Pass.

Army Maj. Gen. Eduardo del Rosario, head of “Task Force Kalihim,” made this announcement at a news briefing in Masbate City yesterday.

A team from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has been seen since last Tuesday at the command center in La Sala Resort, which is less than a kilometer away from the crash site.

Unlike bigger commercial jets, the Piper Seneca plane boarded by Robredo and the two pilots didn’t have a flight data recorder, often referred to as a “black box,” that is used to help determine the cause of a crash.

CAAP Director General William Hotchkiss said a full scale audit will be done on Aviatour Air, the Mactan-based company that chartered the plane, after they issued a suspension order on their operations.

Aviatour Air voluntarily grounded its fleet last Sunday, a day after the Seneca Piper crashed in the waters off Masbate City.

The company founded Capt. Bajinting also said they are open to any investigation of their planes and operations.

Hotchkiss said the audit will determine if Aviatour Air can still be allowed to operate after the death of its CEO and founder Capt. Jessup Bahinting, one of the crash victims.

In a radio interview, the CAAP official said it’s important to include the management in their investigation and audit to find out if there’s another capable person who can continue running the company.

Hotchkiss confirmed that a three-man team obtained statements from Senior Insp. Jun Abrazados, the lone survivor of the crash, on the incident.

He said Aviatour’s flying school was suspended after an accident in Camiguin province last March.

Another suspension was imposed when 80 Indonesian students filed a complaint before CAAP through the Indonesian embassy, saying that Aviatour did not have enough planes for them to use.

Since 40 of the Indonesian students have already started their studies, CAAP gave Aviatour an extension until Aug. 29 to allow the 40 Indonesian students to finish their course.

But the latest suspension order would affect the Indonesian students, Hotchkiss said.

He said the investigation was ordered by President Benigno Aquino III through Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas.

He denied allegations that CAAP didn’t conduct regular checking and inspection on all flying schools in the country.

Hotchkiss said they have conducted annual inspection on all the planes and all the pilots every six months.

Capt. Nelson Napata, Aviatour Air Vice-president for aircraft maintenance and flight assured full cooperation in the investigation.

Napata said last Saturday’s accident was the second major accident this year.

The first one happened last March 4 wherein a Norwegian tourist and her Filipino pilot were killed while three other foreigners were injured when an Aviatour’s Cessna plane, which also came from Mactan in Cebu crashed in  Mambajao, Camiguin.

Napata said human error had caused the Camiguin accident.

Rep. Tomas Osmeña of Cebu City’s south district earlier called for an investigation into the crash and an inspection of all Aviatour fleet.

But Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama disagreed, saying Aviatours shouldn’t be singled out.

If there is an inspection, the mayor said commercial flight couriers should be included.

“Let us not just be focusing on Aviatour’s planes because the crash was an isolated case,” said Rama. /Jhunnex Napallacan, Correspondent with Chief of Reporters Doris C. Bongcac and Inquirer

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