POSTSCRIPT / July 6, 2021 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Fear of plane crash, or in-flight infection

AS we look forward to flying again as soon as Covid-19 restrictions are eased by nations recovering from the pandemic, we wonder which risk most air passengers now fear more – catching the coronavirus while traveling or being caught in a plane crash.

We want to see more comprehensive studies on which is more prevalent among air travelers these days between fear of plane crashes or the dread of catching coronavirus (or its variants) in flight.

The fatalistic Filipino in many of us may soon outgrow the fear of both scenarios while saying “Bahala na!”, but such incidents as these two recent ones have just revived the persistent question of how safe is air travel:

First report was on the crash in Sulu on Sunday of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft ferrying troops from Cagayan de Oro fresh from anti-terrorism combat training. Killed were 47 of the 96 persons on board, plus three civilians on the ground, when the plane missed its landing at the Jolo airport, broke as it fell, and burst into flames.

Second item was the diverting to Japan of a US-bound Philippine Airlines flight when a passenger required emergency medical attention five hours out of Manila. After his treatment at Haneda airport, the plane flew back for lack of time to meet its midnight landing deadline in Los Angeles.

The airline industry cites statistics showing that more people die in transport accidents on land than in the air. But plane crashes have a more dramatic impact because we see ourselves as having been designed to move more safely on the surface of the earth, than up there in the air.

In pandemic times, airlines adopt best practices, such as those on strict disinfection, spacing seat assignments, redesigning ventilation, etc., but there should be imposed industry-wide minimum safety and prophylactic measures. Governments must also do their part in enforcing regulations to protect the flying public.

Having been locked in since the pandemic broke out, a major concern of most travelers now is protection from infection at all stages, from processing at the airport, to boarding, flying on long-haul stretches, undergoing quarantine, or processing on arrival, and so on.

Who will work out all the rules, and enforce the new protocols, over the inevitable objections of those who disagree, for the travelers longing to flex their wings again?

 Soldiers die without firing a shot

THE C-130 crash in Sulu was doubly tragic because those who perished were soldiers trained to face death fighting terrorists — only to die inside a flying metal cylinder even before they could spot the enemy and start shooting.

Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, AFP chief of staff, said the C-130 missed the runway as it tried landing at the Jolo airport, then attempted to “regain power but didn’t make it.” The plane ditched into a shallow cliff, in what was already part of Patikul town, Sulu, before bursting into flames.

Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, Joint Task Force Sulu commander in charge of rescue operations, said most of the passengers were army personnel. Also on board were the pilots – Maj. Emmanuel Makalintal, Maj. Michael Benolirao and one Lt. Tato – and five crew.

The C-130 was the first of two refurbished cargo aircraft being acquired from the United States. Since its delivery in January, the plane had been transporting troops and supplies as well as delivering humanitarian assistance and relief goods to areas hit by calamities.

Sen. Dick Gordon tweeted: “This has been the 4th crash of PAF’s aircraft with mass casualties. In January, seven were left dead after Bukidnon crash. In April, pilot was left dead in Bohol. In June, 6 dead in Tarlac. And today in Sulu, at least 17 are dead. Are we buying defective crafts with the people’s money?”

Air force spokesman Lt. Colonel Maynard Mariano gave assurance that the C-130 crash would be fully investigated, but added that “We are on rescue mode right now.”

Last month, a Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a night-time training flight, killing the three pilots and three airmen who went down with their S70-i near the Crow Valley training range north of Clark Freeport. The entire fleet was grounded as a result.

The government had ordered 16 of the multi-purpose chopper from a Polish firm that made them under license from the Sikorsky division of US defense manufacturer Lockheed Martin. Eleven have been delivered since late 2020.

 Medical emergency diverts flight

THE OTHER incident involved Philippine Airlines flight PR 102 from Manila to Los Angeles that was diverted to Japan after a passenger had a medical emergency five hours after it took off at 9 p.m. Saturday, Manila time.

The Boeing 777-300 had to make an emergency landing at Haneda Airport to ensure that a stricken passenger had proper medical attention. Fortunately, his condition normalized after being given medical support on board, and did not have to be taken to a hospital.

But the plane, with its 186 passengers (spread out over 370 seats) had to fly back to Manila because its landing permit at Los Angeles International Airport, good till midnight of July 3, would have expired by the time it arrives late at around 1 a.m. July 4, LA time. Manila (MNL) is 15 hours ahead of Los Angeles (LAX).

The passengers, who included boxing champ (also a senator) Manny Pacquiao, stayed at the NAIA Terminal-1 to board the next PAL flight scheduled at 2 p.m. Sunday. If they left the airport, they would have had to be processed all over again.

Pacquiao was on his way to the West Coast to prepare for his boxing match with Errol Spence Jr. scheduled on Aug. 21 in Las Vegas.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 6, 2021)

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