DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 Sept) – A Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight bound for Manila made an emergency landing at the Davao International Airport here at 1:33 p.m. Friday, some 30 minutes after it took off, as the flight crew noticed smoke coming out of the cargo section.
“The pilot said we have to do emergency landing because of smoke from the cargo section. So they prepared us for emergency water landing but we landed at the old airport,” Maribel Buenaobra, Deputy Country Representative of The Asia Foundation told MindaNews.
Buenaobra was one of 131 passengers on board Philippine Airlines’ flight PR 1814 which was scheduled to leave Davao City for Manila at 11:40 a.m. but the Airbus A321-231 took off at 1:07 p.m.
Several VIPs were on board the aircraft, among them former Makati mayor Elenita Binay, wife of Vice President Jejomar Binay; Las Pinas Rep. Mark Villar, former Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, and former Sultan Kudarat governor Pax Mangudadatu.
The passengers, Buenaobra said, were “calm” although some cried. “Of course I was scared … I prayed the rosary,” she said.
Passengers were instructed to take off high heeled shoes, wear lifevests and prepare for possible water landing. “I think that’s what scared people but they remained calm. No one shouted or panicked. We all clapped when we landed at the old airport,” she said.
In a statement, the Philippine Airline said the pilots noticed that the aircraft’s ‘cargo smoke warning’ was activated, prompting them to carry out the required procedures to extinguish any smoke.
“PAL crew just wanted us safe. Maybe kasi 9/11 kaya some media want to make something out of it. But kudos to PAL pilots and crew. Glad we landed at the old airport and not the sea,” Buenaobra said. The old airport is just across the new airport.
Friday, September 11, is the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
No smoke, no explosives
Airport security found no smoke and no explosives in the plane’s cargo section.
Chief Insp. Eugene A. Balugo, chief of the Davao International Airport’s Police Station and PNP Aviation Security Unit XI, told MindaNews that the captain of PAL flight PR 1814, Jacob Vincent Sydiongco, detected on his monitor smoke inside the cargo compartment of the aircraft that he suspected was coming from the security risk item box that contained firearms and bullets of some passengers.
He said the crew initially performed a precautionary procedure to suppress the smoke before making an emergency landing at the airport.
“As a standard procedure, the captain should land the aircraft at the nearest airport,” he said.
As they were returning to the airport, the crew and the chief pilot instructed the passengers to prepare for emergency landing “whether at land or sea.”
He added the captain immediately asked for isolation of the aircraft at the hangar of the old airport where the passengers safely disembarked.
When the airport security inspected the compartment cargo, there was no longer smoke, he said.
He added that the Explosive Ordnance Division (EOD) also checked the cargo compartment but found no explosive devices.
Balugo said initial investigation by PAL’s service company, Lufthansa Teknik, found that the smoke came from “AFT cargo compartment.”
The aircraft is still parked at the old airport “for technical evaluation, assessment and investigation,” the PAL statement said.
The affected passengers “will be re-accommodated on the next available flights,” it added.
Beverly Lim-Axalan, who is traveling with her husband Audie Axalan to Detroit, Michigan on Sunday, were still checking on their flight for Manila as of 6 p.m. Friday.
She said PAL personnel informed them that if they could not board the next flight, they will be billeted in a hotel and would take the flight on Saturday.
Beverly recalled she was awakened by the captain’s announcement that they would return to Davao just a few minutes after take off.
“Akala ko wala lang (I thought it was just nothing),” she said.
She said she got scared when the flight attendants instructed the passengers to take off their high-heeled shoes and remove anything sharp from their bodies.
Her fear grew when the captain instructed them to “prepare for emergency landing and brace for double impact.”
“I thought we were going to die,” she said, adding that she saw the sea when she looked out the window. (Antonio L. Colina IV with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)