CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Misamis Oriental commemorated on Wednesday, February 2, the crash of Cebu Pacific Flight 387 at the site that has now become a major mountain tourism hub in the province, 24 years after one of the worst aviation disasters in the country’s history.
Officials laid wreaths and heard mass at the Cebu Pacific Flight 387 shrine built years ago to remember the more than 104 crew and passengers of the ill-fated plane that crashed some 6,000 feet above sea level on the slopes of Mount Sumagaya.
The memorial stands at the crash site near the boundaries of Claveria town and Gingoog City, an area that was a no- man’s-land due to the insurgency and the absence of government infrastructure more than two decades ago.
With a road network now in place and a much-improved peace and order situation, the area has become a favorite route of many people traveling from Cagayan de Oro to Gingoog due to its scenery, fog, and mountain breeze.
The main road, popularly known as Route 955, stretches from the Misamis Oriental towns of Villanueva, Claveria up to Gingoog, a component city of the province in the east near the Caraga region.
Misamis Oriental Governor Yevgeny Vincente Emano, who led the 24th commemoration of the plane crash, was a 23-year-old fresh graduate when the disaster struck in 1998. Three months later, he was elected mayor of neighboring Tagoloan town – the first-ever government position he held – while his father, the late former governor Vicente Emano, won in the mayoral race in Cagayan de Oro.
Governor Emano, now 47, was partly responsible for turning the area into what it has become today – a well-manicured mountain eco-tourism complex thousands of feet above sea level.
Misamis Oriental tourism chief Jeffrey Saclot said the tourism complex and botanical garden built around the shrine alone attracted 28,815 paying visitors from July 9, 2021, to January 30, 2022, the period when the local government started collecting entrance fees of P10 each.
But there were many more given that a chain of mountain resorts and other tourism establishments have mushroomed along the entire Route 955 stretch.
The provincial government recently built a koi pond and an edible garden near the crash site as additional features of the tourism complex.
The aviation disaster involved a Cebu Pacific-owned McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 plane from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila that crashed on its way to the Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro after a brief stopover in Tacloban City, apparently due to pilot error. The three-decade-old aircraft had 99 passengers and five crew on board. No one survived.
The crash site was difficult to reach at that time because of the thick vegetation and the mountain terrain. It took at least three days for the first members of a search and rescue team to reach the site and when they did, they were greeted by the horrible sight and stench.
Relatives of passengers in the flight manifest waited at a command center in the village of Mat-i for word about their then missing loved ones.
There were prominent residents of Cagayan de Oro and elsewhere who were on that plane such as American Michael Costello, a well-loved sociology professor at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan who founded the Saint Mary’s School in the city.
A Cagayan de Oro-based journalist who was covering the story about the crash cried when the flight manifest was read – Costello was her teacher at Xavier. –Rappler.com