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‘Nagging questions about 1998 CEB crash still unanswered’

In the morning of Feb. 2, 1998, just over two decades ago, an ill-starred Cebu Pacific Airlines McDonnell DC-9 passenger jet slammed into a fog-shrouded mountain near Cagayan de Oro City (CDO), instantly killing all 104 passengers.
At the time, it was billed as the “worst air disaster in Philippine history” only to be surpassed a scant two years later when a Davao City-bound Air Philippines Boeing 737-200 with 131 passengers aboard went down in a coconut farm on nearby Samal Island.
The bodies of the CEB victims were so badly mangled by the impact of the crash that they could not be properly identified by their relatives, which is why it was agreed they would be buried in a mass grave at a high-end memorial park in CDO with a black granite marker etched with the names of those who perished. Back in the day, DNA science wasn’t being relied on for ID purposes like it is today since it lacked sophistication, which is why the families just had to make do.
Cebu Pacific, which is owned by a billionaire Cebu-based clan, immediately engaged the services of numerous expensive spin doctors and horn tooters to deflect the rampaging negative public sentiment in the wake of the mishap.
But despite their best efforts to still the waters, many unanswered questions still linger in the minds of the respective families, thus preventing them from having closure after 20 long years.
Questions like: ‘Whose fault was the crash?’ and ‘What really happened?’
Several pertinent issues such as the aforementioned are still in limbo due to the alleged reluctance of government authorities -supposedly at the behest of CEB management who wished to sweep matters under the rug as soon as possible so they might get on with their lives - in coming out with the unvarnished truth.
Records showed Flight 387 left the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at about 9:16 a.m. en route to CDO but never showed up. Instead of flying directly there, the DC-9 made a detour to Tacloban City to bring mechanics who had been hired to fix another stranded CEB plane.
Former presidential assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza, who was able to listen to the black box, said that due to the side trip, the plane traveled “off airways”.
So instead of approaching CDO from the sea, it crossed over to Butuan City flying inland right smack into the foggy mountainside.
And here’s one for Ripley’s. According to an account by MindaNews, one of the more credible news outlets in Mindanao, the Air Transportation Office (now renamed Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines) in its official report archived in the National Library failed to specify the exact crash location, whether it was Mt. Sumagaya or Mt. Lumot. Duh.
(But this was later rectified by Secretary Dureza who said it was actually in Sitio Lumot, Mt. Sumagaya. He said Mt. Lumot did not appear in the government maps as it is part of the Mt. Sumagaya range.)
ATO officials blamed pilot Paulo Justo and co-pilot Erwin Golla for the tragic incident which claimed the lives of 99 passengers and five crewmembers.
They said there were several violations in aviation safety rules noted by their investigators like poor operational control which was a result of the pilots’ lack of training, as well as unfamiliarity with the terrain of the air traffic controllers.
Inexperienced pilots, really? And ATCs too?

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