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Six Die in Philippines Plane Crash

November 11, 2002

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Trailing smoke from its left wing, a twin-engine commuter airplane crashed into Manila Bay shortly after takeoff early Monday, officials said. At least six of the 34 people aboard were killed, and fishing boats plucked 17 survivors from the murky water.

Divers were searching for the 11 people still missing in the wreckage of the Fokker 27, which sank in about 60 feet of water.

One of the survivors, 25-year-old Steve Thompson of Sydney, Australia, said he saw smoke coming from the left side of the plane just before the pilot came on the intercom to tell passengers to brace for impact. Wearing a white T-shirt and shorts, he said he and five Australian friends were heading to the northern Philippine city of Laoag for a surfing vacation.

``The plane took off. It flew for three minutes, and then the engine kind of got quiet,″ Thompson, bandages on his toes and left arm, told reporters. ``Then I noticed some smoke coming out of the left engine, and then it banked. Then we ended up down in the water.″

Asked if the passengers panicked, Thompson said: ``The cabin instantly filled with water, so no one made any noises. I’ve seen a lot, man. This is one for the record.″

Saying he didn’t know what happened to his friends, he began weeping as he spoke with his mother by telephone.

Joggers who had been running along the bay said the plane sounded like it was having engine trouble as it tried to gain altitude. Amateur video showed the plane slowly descending with smoke coming from the wing.

Adelberto Yap, chief of air transportation for the Philippines, said the Laoag International Airlines plane broke up on impact.

Small debris, including at least one seat, was strewn across the bay. A floating crane was brought to the scene in an attempt to raise the wreckage. A navy commander at the site said divers were having trouble because conditions were so murky.

``After going airborne, it ditched,″ Yap said. ``We don’t know if it lost power.″

The survivors included the pilot, Capt. Bernie Crisostomo, and co-pilot Joseph Gardiner, both Filipinos.

``I’m just very tired,″ Gardiner, 30, told The Associated Press. ``It’s shocking. I wish that it didn’t happen. I’m just hoping there were many survivors that came out of that. I’m not sure though.″

Navy officials said they had recovered six bodies, including a boy found by a navy diver still strapped in his seat in the wreckage and at least one flight attendant.

Yap said the twin-engine plane was carrying 29 passengers and a crew of five when it took off shortly after 6 a.m. on a regularly scheduled flight to Laoag, about an hour’s trip from Manila.

The airline’s other four Fokker 27 planes were grounded as a precaution, Yap said.

San Juan Dios Hospital reported that five people, including the pilot, had been brought in with minor injuries.

Another hospital, Ospital Maynila, said it had received nine survivors, and three others, including Thompson and the co-pilot, were taken to bayside navy headquarters.

``We were jogging when we noticed that plane with a strange-sounding engine,″ jogger Raymund Cayetano told DZRH radio. ``It veered toward the sea. Instead of going up, it hurtled downward. The last that we saw of it was the tail.″

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