CAAP investigator reports cover-up in Robredo plane crash

Posted at 11/22/2012 7:50 AM | Updated as of 11/22/2012 7:50 AM

MANILA, Philippines - A special investigator of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has reported an alleged cover-up in the accident report on the plane crash that killed interior secretary Jesse Robredo and two pilots in Masbate waters last August.

CAAP special investigator Cesar Lucero told President Aquino in a letter last Nov. 15 that the 14-page aircraft accident report submitted by the five-member panel to Malacañang did not include the accounts of Coast Guard divers who retrieved the bodies of the fatalities and the Piper Seneca plane and its broken parts from the seabed.

The panel was created by former transportation and now Interior Secretary Mar Roxas to investigate the fatal crash.

Lucero said right after locating the submerged plane, the Coast Guard divers reported that they found the body of the pilot, Capt. Jessup Bahinting, still strapped to the right pilot seat, indicating he was not the pilot-in-command during the flight.

“There was no categorical pronouncement as to who was at the left or right seat of the cockpit, a very vital information needed in the investigation,” Lucero said. He said the report also failed to mention whether the fact-finding committee had interviewed any of the technical divers.

The CAAP investigator, who was placed under a 90-day preventive suspension for revealing to media the result of his separate investigation into the incident, said the report also did not include the history of the ill-fated Piper Seneca and its parts.

He said the panel report also failed to mention the plane’s cost when it was bought from its country of origin, when it was brought to the Philippines, or if it ever passed civil aviation flying standards.

Lucero said earlier documents about the Seneca showed that its defective right engine was imported as surplus material.

He also told the President that he had already filed graft charges against some former and current CAAP officials, and the Office of the Ombudsman is already conducting its own probe into the complaint.

Lucero remains under suspension pending the resolution of an administrative case filed against him for grave misconduct.

The suspension was a result of his revelation to the media that the Nepalese pilot was in command of the plane during the flight.

CAAP has also accused Lucero of violating a July 30 memorandum regarding media relations and press releases.

The investigator said he was just doing his job as special investigator tasked to supervise investigation of irregularities, and violation of laws and regulation committed inside the agency. A veteran CAAP investigator, Lucero has undergone training at the US Federal Aviation Administration and the International Civil Aviation Administration in Thailand, including anti-terrorism and biological hazard courses. He said he would file counter charges for obstruction of justice against CAAP officials and for allegedly trying to cover up irregularities in the agency. He insisted that the Seneca, owned by the Aviatour Flynn Inc., was being used both in training and commercial flights.

He said Aviatour planes had been involved in past fatal crashes.

In April 2011, a Piper Seneca imported by Aviatour from the US and sold to Capt. Reynaldo Garcia crashed in Baguio City.

A second Aviatour plane, a Cessna 1825, crashed in Camiguin airport last March, while another, a four-seater Beechcraft, crashed in Parañaque City in December last year, killing 14 people.

Lucero said the planes’ engines were imported as junk from the US for a dollar each with tampered serial numbers.