Salvage work keeps plane stuck in Davao
MANILA, Philippines - A reason for the delay in the resumption of operations in Davao international airport is the effort of aviation experts to salvage and minimize the damage on the Airbus aircraft of Cebu Pacific that remained stuck in the runway.
This was according to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya during an interview with radio DZIQ on Tuesday morning, June 4. This explains why the 3rd busiest airport in the Philippines remains shut almost two days after the Airbus A320-200 skidded off the runway after landing in heavy rain on Sunday evening, June 2.
"The Cebu Pacific team is very careful in their efforts to tow away the aircraft so it could be used again," Abaya said, adding that the state aviation officials now want to take over the salvage work from the Cebu Pacific personnel and consultants.
John Andrews, the deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), echoed this during an interview with ABS-CBN also on Tuesday morning.
"Right now the Cebu Pacific team is trying to extract the aircraft with minimum damage to the aircraft. We feel that the aircraft is now beyond economic repair. It is of interest to public service. We are constrained to exert all efforts to expedite the removal of the aircraft," Andrews said during the TV interview.
This has resulted in further moving the target to resume airport operations to 3pm Tuesday. The original deadline was 8pm Monday, which was later moved to 7am Tuesday.
A Cebu Pacific said they have experts on towing planes who are now in Davao.
"Aside from our Cebu Pacific team, we have flown in experts from a Singapore engineering company to help us with the removal of the aircraft from the runway. They are the experts in that work. We are banking on them," Candice Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing and distribution, said in the same TV interview.
"The important thing is the immediate extraction of the aircraft so operation of the Davao international airport can go back to normal," she added.
Andrews also debunked earlier reports that the runway lights at the Davao airport were off, reportedly resulting in the delay in deplaning the 165 passengers onboard the Cebu Pacific aircraft that Sunday night.
"That report is not true. There was no loss of power as far as the airport was concerned," he said.
Andrews added that CAAP, which is the lead government agency investigating the incident, is looking closely at the possibility that pilot error caused the plane to veer toward the right side of the runway after touchdown. Earlier, he explained that the pilot was navigating a crosswind during the landing procedures.
"The investigation is still going on. There are preliminary reports and all point to possible pilot error," he said.
He also added that possible actions against responsible individuals and the airline are "dependent on the situation because we still have to look at the circumstances that led to the incident… We have to take the glide path of the aircraft but it will take too long."
Andrews also said that if the wiper of the plane was not working well, the pilot should not have proceeded from landing the plane. "If the wiper was not functioning well, you should not have landed the aircraft."
Joel Almario, Vice Governor of Davao Oriental who was among the passengers of the Cebu Pacific flight 5J 971 from Manila, narrated that the pilot mentioned about the plane's wipers to those onboard.
"I was at the 9th row. The pilot mentioned something about the wipers not working well. He was talking to the passengers in the first rows that they (pilot) had difficulty because the rain poured and that there were problems with the wiper," Almario said during the phone-in interview.
Iyog said there were no report from their pilot about malfunctioning wipers. "I read the initial reports from our pilot. The wipers were working."
"We cannot speculate on what really happened until the final report is out," she added.
Bad crisis management
Almario went on to narrate the harrowing experience he and the other passengers went through. He also criticized Cebu Pacific for the lack of preparation of the staff during a crisis situation.
"We were inside the plane for about 20 minutes. After we were disembarked, we were in the runway for more than 5 minutes. There was no bus waiting for us. The others walked toward the terminal. Two hours after the accident, no food, no doctor arrived. We could not talk to a crew who could respond to our questions well."
He said he and the passengers are mulling filing a class suit against Cebu Pacific. "We are meeting tonight."
Earlier, the president of the Ateneo de Davao University wrote a scathing letter accusing the airline's personnel of “insensitivity and ineptness” in dealing with the airline passengers. "It was only after 27 minutes in a smoked cabin that the passengers were allowed to leave the plane by coming down emergency slides," wrote Fr. Joel E. Tabora.
Tabora said the university is boycotting Cebu Pacific — the country's biggest domestic airline operator.
Cebu Pacific president and CEO Lance Gokongwei said they will reach out to Tabora, as they are doing with the other affected passengers.
"This incident was most unfortunate. I would like to personally apologize to all the passengers affected and those whose travel plans were disrupted," Lance Gokongwei said in an ANC interview on Monday night.
Iyog admitted that there are possible lapses in how the ground crew handled the affected passengers. "We admit we have something we can improve on [regarding ground handling]," she said.
However, Iyog said the cabin crew followed the protocol as far as handling the passengers while they were still inside the plane.
"Based on the report by the crew, when they landed they did not see imminent danger. They got clearance to disembark the passengers," she replied when asked why it took between 20 and 30 minutes for the passengers to deplane.
"No one was injured. That's the most important thing. We commend the crew because they did not panic. It could have been worse if there was panic. Their main concern was to safely disembark the passengers. We call what they did 'precautionary disembarkation.' The crew opened the front part and allowed the passengers to slide down."
"The inflight crew followed the process. They checked the passengers if they have sharp objects with them. They checked if the passengers have injuries. They (crew) were the last to deplane because they checked and made sure no one was left behind," she added.
Andrews debunked her. "We were together in Cebu Pacific at one time. You were a flight attendant. The standard operating procedure for any emergency situation like this is for the captain to immediately order an immediate evacuation which should be done within 3 minutes."
"The passengers staying inside the aircraft for more than 20 minutes is a violation of this principle, and we are going to take this into account," he said.
Another aviation expert, Benjamin Solis, earlier stressed that what happened in Davao airport is an emergency situation.
"When an aircraft lands where it is not supposed to be, the pilot calls for an immediate evacuation and the cabin crew must immediately open the doors and put out the slides as quick as possible," he told Rappler.
Solis also said the Davao airport's fire and rescue team should be at the aircraft site no longer than 2.5 minutes after the incident. The former pilot and now a consultant for airports and flying schools stressed that this is the global safety standard set by the International Civil Aviation Organization for airports all over the world.
While the Cebu Pacific incident occurred during heavy rain in Davao, Solis said the emergency procedures must be followed "regardless of weather conditions." - Rappler.com