“The 5J971 near – death experience”
We were seated at row 22 with a great view on the back of the left engine that was heavily damaged. With Smoke filling the cabin, and the airline staff not letting us out, I just held my wife Joy and my son Jouno closer and prayed that there would be no explosion that would happen.
It all started while we were waiting for boarding at Gate 16 in T2 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport. We were informed that our flight will be delayed for 20mins due to the late arrival of our turn around aircraft much to the dismay of the passengers awaiting boarding. Nevertheless we patiently waited.
But after 5 minutes, we were asked to transfer to Gate 20 as there were changes on the flight schedule. When we get there we were directly boarded to an awaiting plane. I thought our original aircraft was still not here? Oh well, I guess this is better than waiting further. This change however turned out to be a critical one.
A few seconds after the plane took off, I noticed a sudden change on the humming of the engine. It was pretty much like shifting to second gear in a car even when you haven’t got the initial speed that you want. I thought the timing was off. But we were able to reach our flying altitude yet it was rough sailing from then on. The fasten seat belt sign was turned on and off several times as there were a lot of air pockets and turbulence along the way.
Throughout the flight, the passengers notice something strange. The pilot went to the restroom about 4 times within an hour, and every time he gets out he looked dazed. At one time he even asked the stewardess to make coffee for him. I do not want to make any speculations but most people can hold it even for the entire trip. A fellow passenger who was seated at the first few rows in front whom I was able to talk with after the incident proved this fact true.
The captain announced our flight details saying that we are already on our initial decent towards Davao International Airport and that we would land at 7:05pm. I remembered him saying that the weather was fair but a little cloudy in Davao, which generated a sigh of relief for most passengers.
Then suddenly there was a really hard turbulence that went on for a while when the staff were collecting garbage disposals. They were ordered to go back in their seats and that we were already landing in a few minutes.
One thing I really noticed was the speed when we approached the runway. I am a frequent traveler, and this is my 11th plane ride this year alone. We were really going in fast! I did not see the flaps moving even a bit when we were approaching the runway. Based on my experience it should have initially moved as we go nearer to subsequently decrease our airspeed but there was no movement at all. I was shocked when I looked out the window and we were that close to the ground at that speed!
When we hit the ground it felt like a bowling ball hitting the floor. It was a really hard landing. Right on impact the flaps fully opened at once and the wheel was screeching like crazy. From the sound of it, the wheels were not turning at all as the pilot slammed the brakes to the floor hoping for a complete stop.
This caused a lot of commotion from the passengers as we all lunged forward. I can hear all the hand carried baggage rumble to the front of the aircraft. I can just remember looking at my wife on my right and holding her hand and when I saw her in the emergency landing position, I just held on to my 5-yr old son tightly bracing for impact. I can see the family sitting adjacent to us doing the same and protecting their month-old baby.
At the back of my mind I was thinking this is it! I was waiting for something to blow up… the plane veered heavily to the right the sound of metal dragged on the ground was something you won’t forget pretty soon and then I heard a pop from underneath us, probably the wheels breaking off or going aground, just before the plane took a front nose-dive on the grass…luckily when the airplane stopped it didn’t happen.
The scene from inside the cabin was like a scene taken directly from a Hollywood crash movie flick. It was eerily dark with only the emergency exit lights on. We could hear the sound of the rain and wind gushing outside, and the loud cries of babies on board the plane. Nobody talked for a few seconds until my wife shouted “OPEN the doors” then people suddenly broke their silence. The smoke inside the cabin was enough to stir panic among the passengers reeling to get out of the plain. Yet we were instructed by the cabin crew to stay put, as they would wait for further instructions from the captain.
What? Really? You gonna wait for this freakin’ plane to blow while we were still inside? The initial responses from the passengers were a total mayhem. Everyone wants out. People were crying, some were trying to use their mobile phones to contact their loved ones outside, which I just realized could have been disastrous as it could ignite a flame that could blow us all off to the heavens.
1 min, 2mins, 5mins gone by and we are left to ourselves trying to figure out what to do next. Some members of the cabin crew were crying as well as they try their best to calm the passengers down. No ambulance, no fire trucks and no help from outside on the first few minutes of the crash. 23minutes after and with only smoky air to breath, not only oxygen, but patience, was running dangerously low as well.
It took the courage of one person, whom we only know as Captain Bok from the Philippine Navy, to stand up calm everyone down. He knew what he was doing and he was in control when even the cabin crew looked like they were really at a lost on what to do. Capt. Bok gave clear instructions for everyone to sit down so that we can leave row by row to prevent the plane from tilting over. He was the clear definition of a “guiding voice”.
In the midst of high levels of adrenaline rush, the heroes in all of us onboard sufficed as every man in the plane urged the elderly and those who have children to go out first, not minding the dangers that await us should the plane catch fire and blows to pieces. Amidst the chaos, it was elderly and children first. Classic human nature at its best.
I saw my son and my wife made it out safely from the window and that was enough to draw a smile on my face and my heart. Thank God they are safe. Now I have to save myself as well.
When I finally got out of the plane I let out a big sigh of relief. I looked at the plane for the first time and saw the huge crack on one of the engine turbines. It was just then that I realized how precious life is and how someone from above just gave us a second serving of life. It was a brief 10 seconds of my life…but it could easily have been the last.
There were only 2 vehicles that ferried the passengers from the grounds to the terminal. One was a private van most probably owned by somebody working on the premises, and another ambulance. The passengers are left out standing in the rain waiting for a ride. From the moment of impact, it took more than 5 minutes for the fire fighters to reach the scene. There were no medical first responders; in fact there were no one else. I can just imagine what would’ve happened to us if the plane did blow up and there were serious injuries on site. It would have been a mess.
All the passengers are now safe at the baggage conveyor section, eagerly awaiting guidance or any support from the Cebu Pacific management. But lo and behold, again there was no one to face us. Wow, in the movies you could see an outpouring of support for people who have just been to such traumatic experiences. But for us…no food, no warming blankets for those who were dripping wet from the rain, no drinks, no nothing! Not even the sight of the cabin crew consoling passengers. There were even no seats for us to rest our shaking bodies so most people just sat on the conveyor itself. And then I remembered, yes this is not Hollywood.
One employee from CebPac announced that we should not worry, as our baggage will be delivered door to door for compensation. This however back-fired since all passengers are weary of their hand-carried items left at the plain during the emergency exit that do not have any form of tags in them. It looked like some of the passengers were ready to pounce on the little fella.
we were all led to Gate no. 2 where we settled down and talked with CebPac’s management about the ordeal. Those who are from Davao were given some money for Taxi Fares, while those with connecting flights were offered hotels and meals. This was also the place where the hand-carried items were released to the passengers. We were also given juice drinks and a bottle of water during this time but it wasn’t enough to quench the anger of some of the passengers who are clearly dismayed with the absence of medical responders more than two hours after the incident. There were 3 passengers that needed help; one was an older woman whose blood pressure shoots up. The other one was a young girl on her twenties that is clearly suffering from panic attacks, and a pregnant lady that complains of severe abdominal pain… and yet there was no help until this time.
Luckily my cousin, Carlo Dela Cruz is a nurse working in Marbel Doctors Hospital, and another passenger, were capable of dealing with the situation. So just like what we did on board the aircraft, we took it upon ourselves to help each other. The two gallant nurses took care of the affected passenger until help arrived 3 hours after the incident in the form of one woman who have stethoscope and a BP apparatus. Yep! you heard me right.
We went back to the conveyor to get our luggage and went our separate ways, but still finding time to smile for the camera of all the media people waiting at the gates.
The whole ordeal was a life-changing one. We were really blessed to come out of a crash unscratched and alive and to call ourselves as survivors. There were more questions than answers as of this time as to what really happened. Some people said that 3 seconds before the plane touched the ground there was a sudden heavy rain and wind that made the plane swerve. Some said there was a power outage just before the plane landed.
Still some said that they saw one of the engines burning even before we landed, while others share that our engine barely whizzed by one of the metal markers as we were reeling down the runway. It would’ve blown the engine away and wrote a different ending to this story.
For all these extreme experiences, one thing stuck on my mind the most. As we were tumbled left and right, front and back on the runway, with virtually no control over our own fate, it was Jesus’ Name that was called upon by all the passengers. And it was the sincerest and sweetest “Thank You Lord” that was uttered the moment the plane came to rest.
To all the 165 passengers of Cebu Pacific Air Flight 5J 971…
We Did It!
June 2, 2013
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to all of us
by Nino Alinsub
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