The fate of Aviatour Fly’n Inc. , the Cebu flying school and air charter company of the late Capt. Jessup Bahinting, looked dim after aviation investigators concluded that the Aug. 18 plane crash that killed Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, Bahinting and his co-pilot, was due to pilot error, poor aircraft maintenance and even collusion with regulatory inspectors about the airworthiness of its planes.
“We are totally shocked and hurt,” said the Bahinting family in a statement after President Aquino announced the results.
While the family accepted that human error was “significantly possible”, they said they were not aware of any fraudulent collusion between Aviatour and the Cebu Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) in the certification of the planes.
“We are, in any manner or form, not knowledgeable about this kind of devious deal,” said the family’s statement, indicating that Bahinting’s widow Margarita and children who manage Aviatour would contest the finding.
President Aquino yesteday ordered an investigation into the administrative and criminal culpabilities of CAAP and Aviatour’s personnel.
In the Mactan hangar, where Aviatour’s operations remain suspended, Captain Antonio Jureidini, accountable manager, said the findings shouldn’t affect Aviatour’s application for re-certification.
Three CAAP inspectors were at the flight school yesterday as part of the third phase of a five-phase inspection.
“It was a ‘friendly flight’. There was not charter flight involved there,” Juredidni said.
On the issue of engine failure, the company statement said “There is no such thing as a perfect machine.”
“I felt a mixture of sadness and dismay,” said President Aquino about the investigating body’s official report.
The President and the Special Investigation Committee officially disclosed the results of the investigation mainly blaming the pilot for the crash that set off national mourning for Robredo, who was accorded a state funeral.
Of the various errors by Bahinting, the most blatant was his failure to turn back the plane to Cebu after an engine malfunctioned, showing lack of experience to handle an emergency situation, the committee concluded.
The committee also blamed engine failure and poor management by Aviatour Fly’n Inc., including Bahinting’s connivance with officers of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) for the issuance of a certificate of airworthiness without the proper tests.
The President has informed Robredo’s widow, Leny, and their three daughters, about the outcome of the investigation.
“When I first read the initial results of the investigation, I felt a mixture of sadness and dismay,”Aquino told reporters in Malacañang.
“The pieces of evidence pointed to one thing: if some people did their job, if the rules of the industry were followed, if those involved were only faithful to their obligations, the tragedy could have been avoided,” he continued.
Aquino said Capt. Bahinting lacked the proper experience and training for “one-engine inoperative emergency” even though some said he was an expert pilot.
“It’s clear he failed to fly the plane safely on one operating engine. Apart from this, 23 minutes after taking off from Mactan, he became aware that the engine malfunctioned, but instead of turning back, they flew ahead to Naga,” he said.
“They were airborne for 70 minutes before the plane crashed. That means, if they had turned back immediately to Mactan, there was a high possibility the accident could have been avoided,” he continued.
The Piper Seneca, piloted by Bahinting, took off from Cebu International Airport for Naga City at around 3 p.m. on Aug. 18. At about 4:25 p.m., it crashed into the waters off Masbate City, killing Robredo, Bahinting and Nepalese student pilot Kshitiz Chand.
Robredo’s aide survived.
The CAAP later created a special committee, composed of representatives from various sectors of the aviation industry, to investigate the crash.
With the release of the investigation report, CAAP director general William Hotchkiss III ordered the creation of a special investigating body to look into administrative and criminal culpabilities of CAAP and Aviatour’s personnel.
“Aviatour has been suspended—its full operation before—but not its personnel, not yet. We need to go through a due process thing,” Hotchkiss said.
Hotchkiss said he would act on the matter of suspending CAAP personnel within the week.
“Whatever is turned up by the investigating body will definitely also feel the brunt of the full implementation of Philippine Civil Air Regulations,” he said. /INQUIRER, JUCELL CUYOS