Today marks the 18th year anniversary of the doomed Cebu Pacific Air flight 5J-387. On the second day of February 1998, the DC-9-32 aircraft crashed on the slopes of Mount Sumagaya in Claveria, Misamis Oriental, killing 104 people on board.
It was a regular scheduled domestic flight from Manila to Cagayan de Oro City, the regional center of Misamis Oriental. The plane departed Manila at exactly 9AM (0100 UTC) but made an unscheduled stop at Tacloban City to deliver a spare tire needed by their grounded DC-9-32 aircraft. After that brief unscheduled stop, it flew all the way to its final destination. The plane was scheduled to land Cagayan de Oro’s Lumbia Airport at around 11AM (0300 UTC).
The route of flight should have been like this: Tacloban - G578 (name of the airway) - Mactan VOR - W6 - CDO. Instead, the pilot-in-command (PIC) decided not to follow the conventional airways to CDO in order to save time and fuel. He instead tracked out the W9 airway to Butuan and from there, he will take a shortcut to CDO by turning right, passing through the verdant mountain ranges of Agusan del Norte and Misamis Oriental. There are no established airways linking Butuan VOR and Cagayan VOR. In the aviation world, we call it ‘off airways’. After the aircraft passed Butuan, the aircraft flew visually. It means that he will only look out and descend to a prescribed altitude with respect to the terrain without the aide of his on-board equipment. On its initial descent to Cagayan, the pilot reported 42 nautical miles east of Lumbia Airport and was scheduled to land in 15 minutes. That was his last transmission to Cagayan Approach Control.
|The ill-fated flight path|
|This should've been the route of the flight|
Rescue efforts became almost futile as the team faced the deep ravines and dense vegetation of Mount Sumagaya’s slope. The crash site was found days later, near the summit of the mountain. Charred human body parts as well as aircraft debris were scattered at the crash site. There were no survivors.
The crash could’ve been prevented if the PIC opted to follow the assigned airways to CDO. If he remained adamant with his decision, he should’ve at least double checked the height of the surrounding terrain. Remember, when you’re flying visually, your only guide is the terrain below you. The instruments and the onboard equipment will only give your current track and the distance to your clearance limit. Sometimes in flying, shortcuts aren’t the safest routes. You always need to take a lot of considerations.