By Karem Elazegui Neri (PMA 1995)
Early in the morning of 26 January 2006, the sky was covered with patches of dark clouds, delaying the scheduled take off time. Weather satellite report confirmed scattered clouds with intermittent rain shower.
|Philippine Air Force's OV-10 Bronco light attack and observation aircraft .|
Manufactured by North American Rockwell. PAF plans to replace
the two engines OV-10 with the rugged and fuel efficient one engine
Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano for counter insurgency (COIN), close
air support, and aerial reconnaissance missions.
“Sir, we might as well go to the canteen to eat our breakfast, while waiting.” Junie said, as he approached me at the right side of the two-engine plane. “Sure”, I replied.
CAPTAIN ANIANO “JUNIE” AMATONG JR PAF (A member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1996), a seasoned OV-10 pilot with more than a thousand flying hours will be the pilot-in-command this day. The maintenance crew, composed of eight skilled enlisted personnel headed by the engine man, Master Sergeant Silio, was resting at the nearby hangar. They have been preparing the aircraft before the breaking of dawn.
As we were eating our meal, Junie expressed his plans in the future since he's been serving the air force for ten years. “Sir, my wife wanted us to migrate to America, too”. Why? I asked him. Well, Arlene said that some of her relatives are doing great and have a better life there. But I am hesitant. I’d rather work as an airline pilot”, He continued. “Well either way Arlene is a doctor and you have only one child. You should be fine”. I said. The conversation ended, as soon as we consumed our short breakfast. Consequently, the weather looked favorable to fly now. I never thought that this eye-to-eye dialogue with this kind and soft-spoken, thirty three year old gentleman would be my last.
My life changed forever after this short conversation. We headed back to the hangar, close to where our plane was parked. Our mission was a joint training exercise with an American Joint Special Operations Task Force. Loaded with practice bombs to simulate a coordinated and simulated bombingprocedure with the American ground troops. “Good morning Sirs", said Silio, “The tower postponed your takeoff time to 0900H, sir”. “Okay, we’ll just stay here and wait then”, I uttered.
The crew gathered beside the hangar at a small nipa hut, our shed from the scorching heat of the sun. They were making jovial noises and cracking jokes. I saw Junie talking and laughing with them, too. Not long enough from waiting, Steve, one of the crew members, made a joke.
“Sir, you know what? We have only three life stages in the Air Force.” He uttered and continued on counting with his fingers. “One is enlistment, second is re-enlistment, and third is interment!” Everybody reacted indifferently. Some nodded trying to resist the joke. Others were caught staggered and brushed their heads. The rest laughed with varied tones.
Junie chuckled and looked above judging the thin layers of cloud above the sky. Standing in between the aircraft and the group, I overheard the statement, turned my head sideways at them and shouted, “Knock on wood!” They hesitated and stopped talking, but nobody attempted to do it, pretending it was a clean joke. I saw the wooden wheel chuck in placed on the right wheel of the OV-10 and knocked on it two times. Sometimes, I had fear of premonitions, but I never suspected it was.
Junie walked away from the crew and started preparing to load. He got his pilot’s bag, check list and put on his helmet and strapped his backpack parachute. We both made a standard final visual inspection of the plane and stopped on its right side. He then climbed at the stepladder and carefully loaded inside the front seat and secured himself. Before I climbed, I uttered my ritual of short prayer every time I loaded the plane. I positioned myself to the back sit of the two-sitter former observation plane and closed the canopy.
“Area Clear!” Junie shouted! “Clear!” the flight crew shouted and waved his right hand with the yellow flag. “Starting Engine one!” Before I knew it, we were climbing over the runway of Danilo Atienza Air Base. North of the station on my right side was the magnificent aerial view of Manila’s tall buildings, ships, piers, highways and malls along the bay area. It was my most vivid recollection of that wonderful skyline. I looked in front where I could only see Junie’s helmet. I realized that his helmet was painted with patches of dark green, gray and reddish background of skull. I had goose bumps when I examined the beautiful skull that was carefully painted like a shining mirror of a new car’s body. We just passed over Metro Manila’s northern most bay area at around two thousand feet high, when Junie noticed a discrepancy on his engine reading.
“Sir, the left RPM indicator is falling out of limit!” I stretched my head on the right and peeped at the instrument panel, confirmed that the engine’s RPM indicator was going down. “How about the EGT!” I transmitted on the radio. “Sir, it is below the limit, too!” I could not verify the Exhaust Gas Temperature instrument unless I have to unstrap my parachute and reach out to look for it on the left side. “Did you shut the engine off?” “Sir, I shut off the condition lever already!” He later radioed Sangley Tower regarding our emergency situation.
I have high regards of Junie. We were both test pilots and have been flying this plane for a decade now, delivering bombs and long hours of reconnaissance flights. I never had any idea that worst thing was about to happen, nor did I felt nervous. Such eventuality was a normal practice during test flight by pulling back the condition lever to turn off the engine.
By procedure, we were required to turn off one of its engine during test flights; hence, we are both experienced in landing with only one engine running. Seconds after our last conversation was over, the plane started to dip on the left side. I shouted, “to the right, Junie!”
“Sir, it won’t!” I helped in the controls by banking the stick to the right and stepping on the right pedal, but the plane continued to swerve hard to the left. I could see the ground spinning around me and then I shouted, “Eject! Eject!” simultaneously pulled my D-ring handle and ejected out of the plane. I felt the gravity force pushing on me as I was leaving the poor plane roaring wild and loud. I saw how it dived and plunged into the fishpond. I witnessed how the agitated school of milk fish swarmed like sparkles of white glittering lights of firecrackers at night. I could hear no more. The loud roaring was gone. It was all tunnel of hissing silence and everything was so calm. Then my senses and consciousness came back. I could perceive the sea gulls flying and escorting me as I glided over with my parachute. I was alive! As soon as I landed, I felt the cold water succumbed my frail body. My pilot’s boots was planted in to the soft bed of silt and clay. I saw people coming towards the direction of our downed plane.
Only one person was coming to me. I shouted, pointing at the plane’s protruding tail boom, “My buddy is in the plane!” “Please help him!” More people were coming for rescue, going to the plane. But I yelled that there were live bombs on the plane. They regroup in one place ten meters away from the plane’s tail boom and walked towards me, carrying a body wrapped in orange parachute. One of them shouted and said that my buddy was gone…
Account of then CAPTAIN JAMES S ACOSTA PAF, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1995, Junie’s backseat pilot during the ill-fated flight and friend… The unfortunate event changed his life and he now resides in the United States with his family.
From THE STORY OF PAF VETERAN
By PAFAces Karem Elazegui Neri PAFFS CL'95
By PAFAces Karem Elazegui Neri PAFFS CL'95
Photo by Mr. John K Chua (Commercial Photographer)
Post courtesy of Pinoy Aviators
Post courtesy of Pinoy Aviators
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