COTABATO CITY—“Power loss,” the pilot radioed the control tower moments before the Nomad plane nosedived, missed a chapel and slammed into two houses in a residential area in Cotabato City.
All eight people aboard—including Philippine Air Force Maj. Gen. Mario “Butch” Lacson of the 3rd Air Division based in Zamboanga City—and a civilian on the ground were killed in the fiery crash at 11:37 a.m. Thursday, PAF officials said.
Two other civilians were injured on the ground.
Officials said the military plane plunged barely two minutes after taking off from the Cotabato Airport—more popularly called Awang airport—in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.
The plane was decades old, having been acquired from Australia in 1975.
“As it took off, the plane suddenly nosedived and hit residential areas,” Mayor Muslimin Sema, quoting witnesses, told reporters. “It was flying in a zigzag mode.”
Engulfed in flames
The plane was piloted by Capt. Genaro Gaylord Ordonio, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class 2000, and 1Lt. Angelica Valdez of the PMA Class 2006.
Eyewitness Edgar Campos said he noticed the plane was flying very low. “I thought it will swerve toward the chapel, but it tilted toward the urban poor area, hit the roof of a house and exploded,” Campos said, speaking in the vernacular.
The gray-colored plane was engulfed in flames, he said. The two houses it struck, located in a subdivision in Barangay Rosary Heights, caught fire.
The cause of the crash has not been determined but the military ruled out suggestions of any hostile ground fire.
Aside from Lacson, the other people listed in the manifest were the pilots Ordonio and Valdez and their five passengers, namely Maj. Prisco Tacuboy, Lt. Alexander Ian Lipait and Staff Sergeants Ronaldo Mejia, Ianne Christy Marose Llamera and Jeffrey Gozon, according to the PAF head in office in Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.
Lacson, a graduate of PMA Class 1977, was a former chief of the Western Command and was once considered a contender for the top PAF post. He took over the 3rd Air Division, based at the Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City, in June last year.
Moments before the crash, “the pilot made a call (to the Cotabato airport tower) and he said ‘power loss,’” according to Maj. Gen. Carlix Donila, commander of the Davao-based 5053rd Search and Squadron.
Sema said based on witnesses’ account, the plane appeared to be encountering “some trouble” and was trying to land again at the airport.
Irene Tuga, a sidewalk vendor, said she thought the plane was just gliding near one of the residential villages in the city village. “We normally see Air Force planes fly over the city,” she said.
Tuga said the explosion was so loud “we even heard it here about three kilometers away.”
Other Nomad grounded
Village official Rafael Guaipal said that Belina Mondrano was killed on the ground when the plane struck the houses. Mondrano was visiting in one of the houses at the time.
It took a backhoe to dig Mondrano’s body, which was buried by the plane wreck, Guaipal said.
The only other flying Nomad on the PAF fleet is based in Palawan and has been grounded for inspection, in line with standard operating procedures, PAF information officer Lt. Col. Gerardo Zamudio said.
Two other non-flying Nomads are in a storage area at the Mactan Air Base in Cebu.
According to the Civilian Aviation Authority of the Philippines, the ill-fated Nomad’s pilot reported engine trouble shortly after taking off from Awang.
“It was about 8 km away from the airport that the pilot declared emergency. He requested to go back and was cleared to do so. But the pilot replied that communication was fading ... Then our tower lost contact,” CAAP deputy director Ed Kapunan said.
Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said: “The plane crashed two minutes after takeoff.”
The plane originally came from Davao City, where Lacson had attended a command conference of the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command.
The plane stopped off in Awang to drop off Tactical Operations Group chief Col. Cris Tumanda. It was after taking off for its next flight—for Zamboanga City—that it went down.
Zamudio denied reports that the plane was allowed to take off from Awang despite experiencing supposedly technical problems. He said that the Nomad had a valid certificate of air-worthiness.
Zamudio said the plane served several purposes in the Visayas and Mindanao, including transporting senior officers and other personnel.
List of accidents
The Nomad, designed and built by the Government Aircraft Factories of Australia, is described as a twin-engine turboprop, high-winged, short-take-off-and-landing aircraft.
Between 1971 and 1984, 172 Nomad units were manufactured.
The Aviation Safety Network (http://aviation-safety.net/database/type/type.php?type=250)—a website that keeps track of air accidents—has recorded 31 hull loss incidents involving Nomads, with a total of 87 fatalities.
Hull loss refers to an aviation accident where the damage to the aircraft is such that it must be written off, or in which the aircraft is totally destroyed.
Three such incidents were recorded in the Philippines in 1993, 2000 and 2002, all involving military-owned Nomads.
The AFP ruled out suggestions of hostile action against the crashed Nomad.
“What we are definite about is that there was no sabotage. There was no ground fire,” AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.
Brawner said the plane was “closely guarded” as it flew over the camp of the 6th Infantry Division before it hurtled down.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado ordered a full investigation.
Records showed that the crashed plane had been used by the Western Mindanao Command for transport, including to such areas as Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi. “The military bought that plane in 1975 brand new,” Brawner said.