Crash survivor says backpack kept him afloat

Posted at 08/22/12 2:17 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The plane had been flying for over an hour when the pilots sensed something was not right.

This was according to Senior Inspector June Paolo Abrazado, the lone survivor of the ill-fated flight that took the lives of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and pilots Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese Kshitiz Chand.

In a three-page statement sent to Malacañang, Abrazado narrated the last few minutes of the flight that led to the fatal crash last Saturday.

The plane nose-dived, and the sound as it hit the water was like an explosion. Abrazado was briefly knocked conscious, and was later kept afloat by his backpack.

Before the crash, he noted that the Piper Seneca plane was flying low and he wondered why it was taking them so long.

He later learned that the pilots decided to try to fly back to Cebu. But when it became apparent that this would not be possible, the pilots decided to make an emergency landing in Masbate.

Abrazado said the aircraft suddenly glided to the right, apparently to avoid a populous village, and it was at that moment the pilots lost control of the aircraft.

He said the plane initially went up before nosediving and crashing into the sea.

He said the impact created a loud noise, “similar to an explosion.”

“My initial reaction was to hug Secretary Robredo,” Abrazado said.

The impact was so powerful it rendered all of them unconscious.

Next thing he knew, Abrazado said, seawater was already inside the plane, up to his chest.

Abrazado said he became disoriented as he tried to locate Robredo.

He tried to remove his seatbelt about seven times while gasping for breath.

Though dizzy, Abrazado said he saw an opening in the aircraft door where water was rushing in. He used the opening as his way out of the sinking plane.

Abrazado said he hung on to his backpack, which kept him afloat until a local fisherman saved him. 

It was at that moment he realized he couldn’t move his arms due to injuries.

In the same statement, Abrazado said that just before the crash, he sent a message to Superintendent Wally Pornillos, chief of the PNP-DILG office of internal security, informing him that they would be turning back to Cebu as the plane’s right engine had developed trouble.

Abrazado said he was given instructions to book another flight from Cebu to Manila and then Naga.

Abrazado also requested Pornillos to coordinate with the Coast Guard in the area to assist them after their supposed emergency landing.

Pornillos confirmed Abrazado’s account.

“We have had several exchanges of text messages. He called me up and he said ‘we need (the) Coast Guard since we might have an emergency landing in Masbate’,” Pornillos recalled Abrazado telling him.

During their conversation, Pornillos said he initially thought the plane was already at sea since it was noisy on Abrazado’s end.

“I turned off my cellphone and (tried to) call Abrazado again. It was then that I got a clear information from Abrazado that at the time of our conversation, they were about 1.5 kilometer away from Masbate airport,” Pornillos said.

After that conversation, Pornillos said he could no longer contact Abrazado and Robredo. – Cecille Suerte Felipe