My friends and I decided not to post pictures of this part of the trip, until we’re sure we’ve told the story of how wonderfully re-created this island has been. We didn’t want anyone’s reading pleasure be clouded by the accounts of what transpired before we even got to enjoy the island.
We were so excited when we got to Alphaland’s hangar along Airport Rd. in Paranaque. Biscuits and water, coffee and tea were served while waiting for our chartered plane to arrive.
This flight will have about 75 passengers and crews, so Alphaland – Balesin chartered a bigger plane. Most planes only carried 20 passengers or less.
When we first reserved the plane tickets, our initial schedule is 1pm of October 19. Just 2 days before the said flight, we were notified that the flight was rescheduled to 9:30 am.
That 930 got moved to 10, 10:30, until we were called out a little before 11am. The skyjet plane apparently came from a flight from Catanduanes, thus, the delay.
Skyjet’s Capt. Maximo Rosales and Co pilot Jatico’s task, like any other pilot, was to transport us to the Island safely.
In hindsight, we realized that Alphaland-Balesin may have consolidated 4 19-seater flights in one (68 plus 7 crew). The question is, why?
And because Sani, Jons, and DJ arrived earlier, they were assigned seats in the front rows, and I, in the middle portion. Unlike most commercial planes, the middle portion of the plane didn’t have an emergency exit.
The flight should have only taken 25 minutes at most, but due to “weather conditions” in Balesin (as the flight attendant announced, followed by an abrupt hitting of the mute button), we experienced some delays and some air packets.
Okay, it was drizzling. Maybe there was no visibility. 25 minutes dragged on to 40, as we began to descend and the plane sometimes turned 45 degrees to its left, and then 45 degrees to its right. Sometimes we would see the 500-hectare island below us, sometimes it would appear to the left, sometimes to the right.
I was getting dizzy. I asked for the airsickness bag. I was trying to prevent myself from vomiting. Somebody 2 rows behind me couldn’t breathe anymore and someone asked for oxygen. The FA frantically searched for one, as panic crept into all the passengers.
The foreigners seated in front of me commented how this is no doubt the longest flight they’ve had going to Balesin.
At some points, I felt like I was riding the EKstreme tower, or Anchors Away in Enchanted Kingdom. My insides protested the sudden change in altitude and the unsteady way we were gliding. It’s the feeling of losing altitude quickly and then gaining it back, that made me really sick.
Gas masks did not drop off as expected when the pressure in the cabin changed. One passenger we met at the lobby said she couldn’t find the life jackets under the seats.
I heard from some of the ground crew after we landed, that the pilot should have taken the plane back to Manila after attempting to land 3x, and failed. I’m not sure about rules governing commercial flights, and I don’t want to pretend that I know what they are.
Worst of all, no one cared to warn us of what was going on. We could have docked if warned. Or worn a life vest if available, had we crash-landed on water.
After circling the island about 5 times, and in what seemed to be the longest 30 minutes of my life, the pilot finally decided to land. The moment the tires touched the ground, I said, “thank God”.
About 3 more seconds and we were all shocked at a loud thud, as a strong force all hurled us forward.
The plane scraped its bottom off, Sani, DJ and Jons and the other people in front later told us that the flooring of the plane got elevated, the pilot’s cockpit got jammed and the pilots trapped inside. The front tires flew a few meters off the plane. The nose was crushed. The FA walked the aisle saying “Don’t panic, don’t panic” as if she were reminding herself aloud.
The moment the plane steadied, we stood up, wanting to get the hell out of the plane. They opened the rear exit, but since the plane dived, the tail end appeared to have been elevated and it was too high to jump off. The FA said we had to exit from the front door because it was too high and risky (we also felt somebody hesitated to pull the inflated slider).
We ignored her. Then we started smelling gas leaking off the plane.
We had to get out of the plane! The very composed foreigners still opined about the pilot’s experience (or the lack thereof) of landing planes in the 1,533-m airstrip.
Balesin staff were quick to assist. We were made to jump not more than 10 feet, arms crossed above the chest.
After I jumped, DJ, Sani and Jons were already waiting for me since they exited from the front, damaged door which was still somehow passable.
All I wanted was to get as far away from the plane as possible. Now that I know my friends are with me, I became bold enough to take pictures of the plane as passengers still make their way out or away from it.
We were then taken to the clubhouse, as opposed to being serenaded, we were looked at by puzzled staff. We were wet, dirty, shaking, scared, traumatized.
Passengers were crying at the Clubhouse lobby. The manager ordered the staff to get all towels they can, provide extra shirt for us, bottled water, flip flops. Everyone was talking about their own experience.
Since there was no globe signal in the island, none of us could call our families, and we didn’t want to worry them anyway, since we all were alive, bruised and traumatized, but alive.
In the afternoon, we drove by the spot where the plane halted after overshooting the airstrip by about 200 meters, the tide was already high. The area was guarded and taking pictures was already prohibited.
It took them another day to finally get the damned plane off the shore and hidden by a mound of gravel (I think).
We later learned that some websites reported the incident as follows:
2 passengers / Balesin frequent guests or members, who anonymously commented on the said site, insisted that it couldn’t be anything but pilot error resulting from poor training and handling.
Even wikipedia has an updated account of Skyjet and the accident that happened that day. And this airline aspires to serve the Manila-Basco route? A more stormy route than Balesin? Somebody better review their pilots’ and planes’ capability to serve these routes!
A heartless internet user even commented that we all should have died in the accident.
The person said: “sana namatay lahat” and “sayang, sana sa bundok nag-crash at sumabog para walang natirang buhay”
Oh and why are both Alphaland-Balesin and Magnum Air Inc (Skyjet) both downplaying the accident as a simple “miscalculation”, “overshooting the airstrip”, “emergency landing”?
Someone should be held responsible. And by someone I don’t only mean a person, but an entity as well.
Think about one of the kids with us who would cry when it rained (he was awake during the entire flight and subsequent “miscalculation”), a fellow passenger who gets scared when he hears the roar of planes taking off and landing, of passengers who may never ride planes peacefully again, of a mother-passenger who has lost a lot of sleep following the accident.
While we are happy we are all alive and only bruised, a few of our things damaged and scratched, we shouldn’t just tap them on the wrist and say “oh, just be more careful next time, ok?”.
Actions have to be taken. Passengers need to be compensated. Planes need to be checked. Pilots need to be retrained. Are we asking too much? That incident could have turned out differently.
We could never have appreciated the beauty of the island. Our parents would have lost their children. Wives, their husbands. Kids, their parents.
Asked if we are still going to ride planes again, we all did! The much safer 19-seater plane took us back to Manila safely and in one piece. When we encountered some turbulence, Sani held on to the headrest of the seat in front of him. Jons and DJ pretended not to feel the plane shake.
Asked how we managed to enjoy the island after what had happened, I simply told them how the group first debriefed the incident, shared our fears, talked about what could have been’s, and what we can do to make sure we get to enjoy our 2nd lease in life, not to mention what we’ve already shelled out to make the trip happen. If we didn’t debrief ourselves (no shrink was available in the island, though the priest was also in that plane), I’m sure we would never go out of villa and just sulk there.
As of this writing we don’t know if a case is underway. I’m not even sure if we’re the only ones trying to reach out to the other passengers.
All we know is that, we’re happy we’re alive. Thank God for the 2nd chance! Carpe Diem!
Song goes.. “ha! ha! ha! ha! stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. ha! ha! ha! ha! stayin’ alive!!!” Thank you Bee Gees for reminding us that. =)
Post script: Until today, more than a month since the accident, Skyjet STILL has not refunded our fare for the said flight.