CAAP says “pilot error;” passengers mull class suit vs Cebu Pacific

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 June) – Initial investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) on the Cebu Pacific Airbus from Manila that veered off the runway after landing on Sunday night has pointed to “pilot error” as the cause of the mishap, CAAP Deputy Director General Capt. John Andrews said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel’s (ANC’s) Headstart.

The aircraft, which has remained stuck on the runway of the Davao International Airport on Sunday night has not been removed as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, leaving thousands of incoming and outgoing passengers stranded and economic losses increasing by the hour.

Andrews said the CAAP is “constrained to exert efforts to expedite removal of this aircraft” which he described as “beyond economical repair.”

Davao Oriental Vice Governor Joel Almario, who was one of the 165 passengers on board Flight 5J971, earlier told ANC that he heard the pilot talk about problems with the wiper but would like to leave the technical problem to the technical people and focus instead on the company’s lack of crisis management.

He said passengers will meet in Davao City Tuesday to pursue earlier discussions of filing a class suit against the airline.

Almario said the company’s manager in Davao City took about two hours before he talked to the passengers and nobody seemed to be in charge on the ground. He said simple things like a bus to fetch the passengers from the aircraft to the termina, was not provided, even as passengers had remained inside the aircraft for more than 20 minutes since the touchdown shortly after 7 p.m.

He said two hours after the accident, “wala pang pagkain, wala pang doctor dumating. Walang nakakausap na matinong crew na nakakasagot” (no food, no doctor, no crew who could answer questions).

Andrews told Headstart that while CAAP wants to take over in removing the aircraft from the runway, the law provides that this should be done with the consent of the airline but no consent has so far been given.

Andrews also said there was no loss of power in the Davao International Airport as earlier alleged.

Wipers working

Candice Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice president and spokesperson, who guested along with Andrews in Headstart said that based on the report of their pilot, the wipers were working, clearance was given at 500 feet and the plane was able to land but a heavy downpour ensued after touchdown.

Iyog said the pilot and the crew saw no imminent danger, no engine burning, so no clearance to evacuate was given. Instead of an emergency disembarkation, she said they opted for a precautionary disembarkation to ensure passengers leave the plane safe and not cause panic or stampede.

She said the pilot and crew were the last to leave the aircraft.

Lance Gokongwei, Cebu Pacific President and Chief Executive Officer on Mondsy apologized for the mishap.

He told ANC’s Business Nightly that the incident was “most unfortunate” but said it was too early to speculate why it happened.

He explained that the pilot opted for  “precautionary disembarkation” rather than “emergency disembarkation” to avoid panic and injuries.

No right to remove

Iyog acknowledged that they are learning lessons from this experience and will exert efforts to improve their handling of similar situations.

Cebu Pacific was given until 8 p.m. Monday to remove the aircraft but the airline asked for an extension until 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Andrews said he received a call at 3 a.m. that the Cebu Pacific team had abandoned the site and CAAP was now taking over for a possible opening of the airport at 10 a.m.

But Andrews later said that Cebu Pacific has not given CAAP the consent to remove the aircraft. “Until this law is repealed, we have no right to remove,” he told Headstart’s Karen Davila.

Andrews also said “the evidence does not lie” that the cause of the accident was “pilot error.”

He showed photographs from his tablet, showing the aircraft touched down very near the grassy area where it eventually stopped.

Businessman John Gaisano, who was on board the flight, told MindaNews on Monday that the landing was “very rough” and that he thought they would die.

“We could have died when we landed,” Gaisano said, adding he fled like “we did not land on the runway. I think we landed on the soil.”

“Definitely pilot error,” said Andews.

Iyog, said it was the first time she was hearing this report and the first time to see the photographs. She said they are still waiting for the full CAAP report.

She said the pilot of the aircraft, whose name has not been made public, is a veteran. The pilot is grounded pending investigation, he said.

Iyog also said the engine of the aircraft was “not on fire” as passengers earlier noted. Gaisano remembered smoke coming out from the front row but said it did not thicken. (MindaNews)