POSTSCRIPT / July 27, 2014 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Flying facts learned when one takes PAL

SAN FRANCISCO, California – I am back, safely and on time, in this windy city by the bay where many a smitten visitor has confessed leaving his heart.

“Safely” is emphasized, because during the 12.5-hour flight across the Pacific last Tuesday, our Philippine Airlines flight PR104 was buffeted for more than two hours by turbulence that felt like a typhoon venting its ire on unwelcome visitors.

As the Boeing 777 sliced through that stormy layer at 33,000 feet some three hours after departing Manila, the red “Fasten Seatbelts” sign lit up and soon the plane started shaking.

Air turbulence usually does not bother me, but this time I was actually dreading that a wing or something could just get torn off or the lightning flashing in the distant clouds could sear us.

With two Malaysian B-777s recently downed within months of each other, who could tell if the third one would be the plane I was on? (This was the day before a TransAsia Airways plane crashed in Taiwan and closed the supposed 1-2-3 pattern of such air mishaps).

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NO PROBLEM: But PR104 survived the bashing, thanks to the plane’s reliability and the deft handling of the crew led by Capt. Edgardo Mendoza, a veteran of 38 years in the sky. His first officer was Alan Lamorena, assisted by senior officers Paul Domingo and Arvin Ricabierta.

When we got back to normal cruising, I talked to Capt. Mendoza about some points lingering in my mind. Did we fly into a developing typhoon? Why did he not take evasive action by flying around the weather disturbance or going above or below the turbulence?

Mendoza reassured me that that B-777, which he personally flew from Seattle when PAL took delivery some years back, could take the punishment which he said was only about half of what could pose a real problem.

As for the wing possibly breaking off, he said the B-777 wing structure is so sturdy and flexible that in actual strength tests where the tips of both wings are pulled up together till they meet – and they do not break.

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NO SWERVING: There was no need to fly around the turbulence, he said, since the plane and its passengers were not in jeopardy. Besides, shifting above or below the altitude assigned under the approved flight plan only wastes fuel and raises safety hazards.

Flying around the turbulence, especially when it covers a wide area, also means using more fuel than what has been programmed for the trip. The fuel itself, which is the biggest cost in a flight, adds to the weight that the pane has to carry.

Anyway, PR104 which took off from Manila some 50 minutes behind schedule because of airport congestion, was able to close the arrival gap here.

In the industry, a plane arriving or taking off within 15 minutes of its schedule is considered to be on time.

Mendoza said that compared to the earlier Boeing 747 that he also has piloted, the B777 was lighter and longer. Although more fuel-efficient, the B777 magnifies the bumpy feel of passengers caught in a turbulence.

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PERSONAL NOTES: I am in the US for my regular physical. While here, I will link up with my son Peter who is spending the week in the Bay Area with his wife Minnie and their kids Athena, Apollo and Iris – all Americans.

It is a welcome break and an opportunity for bonding. Having lived here for more than three years in self-exile during the Marcos martial rule, I jumped at the opportunity to be their driver, tourist guide and photographer.

(But I expect them to decline my offer, knowing as they do that this tired worker deserves a little rest and medical attention.)

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SALAMAT, VIC: One person I sorely miss in this city is our media colleague Vic Torres, also an American, whose house was a kind of Hilton of acquaintances who showed up unannounced and angled for free lodging.

I do not know where Vic is now, or how life has been treating him since he returned years ago to his native Taal (Batangas) with his wife. On behalf of our common friends who had tasted his hospitality, I am taking this opportunity to thank him.

For my part and as his sidekick, I also had driven for many friends who wanted a quick tour and a shopping sortie into the clearance outlets in the bay area. I knew where to find the best bargains and did not charge for the chore.

When sightseeing, I maximized their limited time by stringing the sites in sequence and not using the same route on the way back. I was so impressed with my driving and sense of direction I thought then that if I ran out of jobs I would work as a taxi driver or a CPA (car park attendant).

As for those who wanted to contribute to charity (meaning to the gambling lords of Nevada), since Las Vegas is too far south, I delivered them to Reno – like the US postal service — whatever was the prevailing weather in the Rockies.

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NINOY MURDER: I fled to the US during martial rule, because my UPROTC brods in the Vanguard fraternity alerted me that I was among those being mentioned in their meetings. They advised me to leave soonest.

The assassination of opposition leader Ninoy Aquino on Aug. 21, 1983, affected me so deeply that my bitterness must have started to show in my writings. I was then Asst. Managing Editor of the Daily Express, owned by Marcos crony Roberto S. Benedicto.

Ninoy, whom I covered as a Senate reporter for the old Manila Times, was the ninong of my son Peter and his twin brother Paul. Through emissaries, including the late Bren Guiao, we were secretly discussing his homecoming.

In one week after my military brods tipped me off, with just $1,000 in my pocket, I hurriedly left. Good old Vic was waiting at SFO.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 27, 2014)

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