DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 June) – The passengers of the Cebu Pacific Air plane that veered off the runway of the international airport here Sunday night have agreed to file a class suit against the airline company.
Speaking in behalf of the 165 passengers who have organized themselves into a group called Flight 5J-971 Victims, businessman Andrew Bautista told reporters on Tuesday night that they have already tapped lawyer Robert de Leon for the legal action.
Bautista, who was elected by 44 other passengers who gathered Tuesday night, said they have not yet come up with the amount of damages that they would demand from the airline company.
“All of the passengers are already aware of this because right after the incident, we were given so much time to discuss while we were waiting for the assistance coming from the crew,” said Bautista.
The passengers have accused the airline crew of mishandling what was apparently an emergency situation.
Bautista and his fellow passengers recounted they were able to get out of the plane after around 27 minutes.
“We want to know the value of the passengers, we the victims. We rode that airplane because we entrusted our lives to them,” stressed Bautista who traveled with his family including a one-year old baby.
Dr. Jess Delgado of the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) and SP01 Jun Narciso told MindaNews that none from the crew acted immediately when the aircraft came to a full stop.
Instead, it was a former Navy officer who took charge and managed the exit of the passengers from the aircraft.
The passengers added there was no immediate and organized evacuation from the site to the airport terminal. Some of them had to walk for around half kilometer to the airport terminal.
Delgado said they were loaded into an ambulance “like sardines”.
Narciso, who came from Manila for an official business in Camp Crame, claimed that he saw a flame on the left engine but tried to remain calm so as not to cause panic among the passengers. But he added he could not say how big the flame was because it was raining so hard.
He felt that the plane hurriedly landed. ”It was a crash landing.”
Delgado, who was seated on 10F, also recalled that he saw a flame on the right engine shortly before the plane touched down, although he noticed that it descended normally.
Delgado and businessman John Gaisano recounted that the plane landed on soil.
Giselle Escobañez, an ADDU student, recalled that she saw the grassy portion beside the runway when they had touched down and confirmed that the plane landed on soil.
In an interview with ANC, Andrews showed photographs from his tablet showing the aircraft touched down very near the grassy area where it eventually stopped.
The plane was removed from the runway around 8p.m. Tuesday and towed to the tarmac of the old terminal, which was around 400 meters away from the site.
Workers used a crane to lift the aircraft’s nose and stacked it on a 20-wheeler trailer truck.
Cebu Pacific Air reportedly flew in Singaporean contractors to lead the removal operations but utilized their cargo loaders as assistants.
Where are the pilots?
The former Navy official, who was later named in news reports as Marlon Bo, confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that he was one of those who stood up and controlled the terrified passengers.
“At that moment, ako lang ang tumayo because for five to 10 minutes everyone was so shocked,” Bo told reporters.
He added that he had not seen the pilots when they were evacuating the passengers.
He said aircraft officers should get out only after the last passenger has disembarked. “I did not expect that the first officer and the captain will leave us. I think they abandoned their responsibility.”
Reporters asked Bo if he had actually seen the pilots leave, but he said he was leaving the other details to their lawyer.
Bo, however, recalled he and the two female flight attendants were the last persons to leave the plane, and he no longer saw the pilots.
Bautista showed a video that he took using his phone that a ladder was apparently erected on the left side of the cockpit’s emergency exit. He posted the video on his Facebook account.
“Buti pa siya may hagdanan,” said Bautista referring to the pilots.
But in an interview with ANC’s Karen Davila Tuesday morning, Cebu Pacific vice president and spokesperson Candice Iyog claimed the pilots and the flight attendants were the last to leave the plane.
‘I thought we’re gonna die’
Andrews pointed out that it was an emergency situation and the passengers should have been evacuated within three minutes.
Delgado recalled that he noticed smoke inside the aircraft. He said it was not so thick, but he was terrified that the plane might explode.
“I thought we’re gonna die,” he said, adding his mind was already full of thoughts about his wife and two children, a six-year old girl and a four-year old boy.
Meanwhile, Bautista refuted the claims of the airline company that the flight attendants did not panic. “Because I saw how the FAs reacted, they were the first ones who shouted.”
Davao Oriental Vice Governor Joel Almario earlier said it took about two hours before the company’s manager in Davao City 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 terminal were not provided even as passengers had remained inside the aircraft for over 20 minutes since the touchdown shortly after 7 p.m.
In the same TV interview, Almario said that 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 member who could answer questions).
Bautista said the common goal of the group is to prevent the same things from happening in the future.
“This is not about the money. May damage na nangyari, somebody has to pay for it and be put in jail, somebody has to be fired,” he added.
But Bautista explained that his group’s move does not aim to taint the image of Cebu Pacific Air but “for them to improve.”
Asked if he would still ride an airplane in the next few days, he said, “I would rather ride a bus going to Manila. We have the same feeling, we are all traumatized by it.”
He disclosed that some are now taking sleeping pills. ”It’s like we’re living dead now.” (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)