– With Noel Talacay, Gerard Naval and Jocelyn Montemayor
THE Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has grounded the entire fleet of Lionair Inc. following the Sunday night crash of one of its aircraft en route to a medical evacuation mission to Japan and the death of its eight passengers.
CAAP said the suspension will be in effect while it investigates the accident, which is expected to be finished in six to 12 months.
The 10-seater Agusta WW24 aircraft RP-C5880, which was bound for Haneda, reportedly encountered a problem while rolling off Runway 06 and caught fire when it reached the end of Runway 24. It reportedly exploded even before firefighters can respond to the fire.
CAAP said the investigation on the crash and resulting fire will be conducted by the Aircraft Accident Investigation and Inquiry Board, while the Flight Safety Investigation Committee will look if aviation safety procedures were violated by the aircraft operator and the crew.
The investigation report is expected to be released in six to 12 months depending on the availability of recovered evidence.
CAAP spokesperson Eric Apolonio said the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) of the ill-fated aircraft, which was manufactured by the Israel Aircraft Industries, has been recovered from the scene.
“CVR is a device used to record the audio inside (the) environment going to the tower and it is for investigation purposes if an accident and/or incident occurred,” Apolonio said.
Aside from CVR, Apolonio said the investigating team is also looking for the flight data recorder (FDR) that records the aircraft’s performance during the flight.
“It will be sent to another country like Japan, Australian, or Singapore to be decoded in order to know what happened before the plane exploded,” he added.
Apolonio said Runway 24 is now operational. “The NAIA Runway 24 was cleared and opened at 4:20 in the morning on Monday and activities had resumed to its regular operation,” he said.
While Lionair Inc. is still coordinating with the victims’ families, Apolonio appealed to reporters not to divulge the names of the passengers, that included a physician, a nurse, a flight medic, a patient and a companion, and three flight crewmen.
The Department of Health expressed sadness over the fate of one of the planes it regularly charters to transport medical supplies to hospitals in the provinces.
In a statement, the DOH said: “We would like to offer our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the victims involved in the crash. Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time,” it said.
The health department said Lionair has been its partner in transporting medical supplies to hospitals in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Malacañang ordered concerned authorities to ensure the safety and soundness of all private aircraft before these are allowed to take off.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, condoled with the family and friends of the eight crew and passengers.
“We are so sad to learn that a plane crashed last night, taking the lives of the eight persons on board. We extend our deepest sympathies to the grieving families of those who perished in the crash,” he said.
Panelo said a thorough investigation of the incident should be done to determine the cause of the incident or if anyone should be held accountable.
“The concerned government agencies must undertake measures to secure the safety of private aircraft as well as their passengers and crew,” he said.