Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, April 29, 2005

Punongbayan dies in chopper crash

AT least nine people, including the former head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismo-logy (Phivolcs), were killed when their helicopter crashed on a mountain in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija yesterday morning.

Among those killed was former Phivolcs head Raymundo Punongbayan, who was Philippine National Red Cross governor at the time of his death. He was with four Phivolcs staffers, two pilots, and two crewmembers, when their UH-1H helicopter crashed on Mt.Namat in Gabaldon town, said Phivolcs director Renato Solidum.

MalacaƱang expressed deep sadness for the death of Punongbayan and the eight other victims of the helicopter crash. "With his tragic death we lost an exemplary public servant," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said. Bunye said MalacaƱang consoles with the family of Punongbayan as well as the other passengers who perished in the accident.

The other fatalities were Dr.Norman Tungol, Phivolcs chief geologist; Dr. Jessie Daligdig, a scientist from the Department of Science and Technology assigned to Phivolcs; and Phivolcs staffmembers Dingdong Javier and Orlando Abengoza. The PAF personnel who died in the crash were 1Lt.Reynaldo Gerrodias, pilot; 1Lt.Jason Salazar, co-pilot; and crewmembers Staff Sgt.Edgar Ramolete and Staff Sgt.Wilbert Tacatac. Sen. Richard Gordon was to have joined the aerial survey but missed the flight because of the hectic bicameral committee work on the pending value-added tax bill.

Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr. said that the group flew to the area to check reports that a barangay in Dingalan, Aurora was being threatened by a landslide with a cluster of boulders seen "clinging dangerously on the edge of a hill, thus, posing danger to a community downhill." "They flew over the area to assess whether there is a need to relocate the residents," Cruz said in a briefing.

Initial investigation showed that the Philippine Air Force Vietnam war vintage chopper took off from Villamor Air Base at 6:58 a.m. and landed at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija at around 7:40 a.m. It left for Dingalan at 8:47 a.m. to conduct an ocular inspection of Mt. Namat.

The chopper was returning from its mission when it crashlanded at about 10:47 a.m., according to the Air Transportation Office. The Air Force has yet to determine the cause of the crash. Meanwhile the Philippine Army's Fort Magsaysay in Palayan City, Nueva Ecija sent a team led by Col. Ricardo Garcia to the crash site. PAF spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said most of the victims were burned beyond recognition.

The air force had sent to Mt. Namat three UH1H helicopters with a team of rescuers and crash investigators.


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