Staying Alive in Balesin : Survivors’ Memoir of Skyjet Flight 5525

My friends and I decided not to post pictures of this part of the trip, until we’re sure we’ve told the story of how wonderfully re-created this island has been. We didn’t want anyone’s reading pleasure be clouded by the accounts of what transpired before we even got to enjoy the island.

The Alphaland Hangar - Lounge, waiting for our 930am flight

The Alphaland Hangar – Lounge, waiting for our 930am flight

We were so excited when we got to Alphaland’s hangar along Airport Rd. in Paranaque. Biscuits and water, coffee and tea were served while waiting for our chartered plane to arrive.

The Alphaland Hangar - Anya and Arcy

The Alphaland Hangar – Anya and Arcy

This flight will have about 75 passengers and crews, so Alphaland – Balesin chartered a bigger plane. Most planes only carried 20 passengers or less.

When we first reserved the plane tickets, our initial schedule is 1pm of October 19. Just 2 days before the said flight, we were notified that the flight was rescheduled to 9:30 am.

That 930 got moved to 10, 10:30,  until we were called out a little before 11am. The skyjet plane apparently came from a flight from Catanduanes, thus, the delay.

Skyjet’s Capt. Maximo Rosales and Co pilot Jatico’s task, like any other pilot, was to transport us to the Island safely.

In hindsight, we realized that Alphaland-Balesin may have consolidated 4 19-seater flights in one (68 plus 7 crew). The question is, why?

And because Sani, Jons, and DJ arrived earlier, they were assigned seats in the front rows, and I, in the middle portion. Unlike most commercial planes, the middle portion of the plane didn’t have an emergency exit.

Onboard Skyjet Flight 5525 - Clueless as to what would happen in the next half hour

Onboard Skyjet Flight 5525 – Clueless as to what would happen in the next half hour

The flight should have only taken 25 minutes at most, but due to “weather conditions” in Balesin (as the flight attendant announced, followed by an abrupt hitting of the mute button), we experienced some delays and some air packets.

Okay, it was drizzling. Maybe there was no visibility. 25 minutes dragged on to 40, as we began to descend and the plane sometimes turned 45 degrees to its left, and then 45 degrees to its right. Sometimes we would see the 500-hectare island below us, sometimes it would appear to the left, sometimes to the right.

I was getting dizzy. I asked for the airsickness bag. I was trying to prevent myself from vomiting. Somebody 2 rows behind me couldn’t breathe anymore and someone asked for oxygen. The FA frantically searched for one, as panic crept into all the passengers.

The foreigners seated in front of me commented how this is no doubt the longest flight they’ve had going to Balesin.

At some points, I felt like I was riding the EKstreme tower, or Anchors Away in Enchanted Kingdom. My insides protested the sudden change in altitude and the unsteady way we were gliding. It’s the feeling of losing altitude quickly and then gaining it back, that made me really sick.

Gas masks did not drop off as expected when the pressure in the cabin changed. One passenger we met at the lobby said she couldn’t find the life jackets under the seats.

I heard from some of the ground crew after we landed, that the pilot should have taken the plane back to Manila after attempting to land 3x, and failed. I’m not sure about rules governing commercial flights, and I don’t want to pretend that I know what they are.

Worst of all, no one cared to warn us of what was going on. We could have docked if warned. Or worn a life vest if available, had we crash-landed on water.

After circling the island about 5 times, and in what seemed to be the longest 30 minutes of my life, the pilot finally decided to land. The moment the tires touched the ground, I said, “thank God”.

About 3 more seconds and we were all shocked at a loud thud, as a strong force all hurled us forward.

The plane scraped its bottom off, Sani, DJ and Jons and the other people in front later told us that the flooring of the plane got elevated, the pilot’s cockpit got jammed and the pilots trapped inside. The front tires flew a few meters off the plane. The nose was crushed. The FA walked the aisle saying “Don’t panic, don’t panic” as if she were reminding herself aloud.

The moment the plane steadied, we stood up, wanting to get the hell out of the plane. They opened the rear exit, but since the plane dived, the tail end appeared to have been elevated and it was too high to jump off. The FA said we had to exit from the front door because it was too high and risky (we also felt somebody hesitated to pull the inflated slider).

Onboard Skyjet Flight 5525 - The frantic stewardess demonstrating the use of the seat belt before the plane took off

Onboard Skyjet Flight 5525 – The frantic stewardess demonstrating the use of the seat belt before the plane took off

We ignored her. Then we started smelling gas leaking off the plane.

Onboard Skyjet Flight 5525 - While waiting for the exit doors to open.

Onboard Skyjet Flight 5525 – While waiting for the exit doors to open.

We had to get out of the plane! The very composed foreigners still opined about the pilot’s experience (or the lack thereof) of landing planes in the 1,533-m airstrip.

Balesin staff were quick to assist. We were made to jump not more than 10 feet, arms crossed above the chest.

After I jumped, DJ, Sani and Jons were already waiting for me since they exited from the front, damaged door which was still somehow passable.

All I wanted was to get as far away from the plane as possible. Now that I know my friends are with me, I became bold enough to take pictures of the plane as passengers still make their way out or away from it.

Skyjet Flight 5525 - A new way to land the plane

Skyjet Flight 5525 – A new way to land the plane

Skyjet Flight 5525

Skyjet Flight 5525 (Exiting from the back)

Skyjet Flight 5525 - Exiting from the front

Skyjet Flight 5525 – Exiting from the front

We were then taken to the clubhouse, as opposed to being serenaded, we were looked at by puzzled staff. We were wet, dirty, shaking, scared, traumatized.

Post-Skyjet Flight 5525 : Chaos at the Clubhouse

Post-Skyjet Flight 5525 : Chaos at the Clubhouse

Passengers were crying at the Clubhouse lobby. The manager ordered the staff to get all towels they can, provide extra shirt for us, bottled water, flip flops. Everyone was talking about their own experience.

Post-Skyjet Flight 5525 - That's WHY the white Jack Purcell sneakers turned gray.

Post-Skyjet Flight 5525 – That’s WHY the white Jack Purcell sneakers turned gray.

Post-Skyjet Flight 5525 - The Clubhouse started to clear out

Post-Skyjet Flight 5525 – The Clubhouse started to clear out but everyone still trying to send a message, upload a picture or post a status

Since there was no globe signal in the island, none of us could call our families, and we didn’t want to worry them anyway, since we all were alive, bruised and traumatized, but alive.

In the afternoon, we drove by the spot where the plane halted after overshooting the airstrip by about 200 meters, the tide was already high. The area was guarded and taking pictures was already prohibited.

It took them another day to finally get the damned plane off the shore and hidden by a mound of gravel (I think).

We later learned that some websites reported the incident as follows:

http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20131019-0

http://www.philippineflightnetwork.com/2013/10/skyjet-overshoots-runway-on-balesin.html

2 passengers / Balesin frequent guests or members, who anonymously commented on the said site, insisted that it couldn’t be anything but pilot error resulting from poor training and handling.

Skyjet 5525 Comments in FB

Skyjet 5525 Comments in FB

Even wikipedia has an updated account of Skyjet and the accident that happened that day. And this airline aspires to serve the Manila-Basco route? A more stormy route than Balesin? Somebody better review their pilots’ and planes’ capability to serve these routes!

A heartless internet user even commented that we all should have died in the accident.

The person said: “sana namatay lahat” and “sayang, sana sa bundok nag-crash at sumabog para walang natirang buhay”

Oh and why are both Alphaland-Balesin and Magnum Air Inc (Skyjet) both downplaying the accident as a simple “miscalculation”, “overshooting the airstrip”, “emergency landing”?

Someone should be held responsible. And by someone I don’t only mean a person, but an entity as well.

Think about one of the kids with us who would cry when it rained (he was awake during the entire flight and subsequent “miscalculation”), a fellow passenger who gets scared when he hears the roar of planes taking off and landing, of passengers who may never ride planes peacefully again, of a mother-passenger who has lost a lot of sleep following the accident.

While we are happy we are all alive and only bruised, a few of our things damaged and scratched, we shouldn’t just tap them on the wrist and say “oh, just be more careful next time, ok?”.

Skyjet Flight 5525 - 3 hours after it first

Skyjet Flight 5525 – 3 hours after it first “touched down”

Actions have to be taken. Passengers need to be compensated. Planes need to be checked. Pilots need to be retrained. Are we asking too much? That incident could have turned out differently.

Skyjet Flight 5525 - Pulling the plane to safer ground

Skyjet Flight 5525 – Pulling the plane to safer ground

Skyjet Flight 5525 - This is how it looks like before we left the island (Monday Oct 21 2013)

Skyjet Flight 5525 – This is how it looks like before we left the island (Monday Oct 21 2013)

We could never have appreciated the beauty of the island. Our parents would have lost their children. Wives, their husbands. Kids, their parents.

Asked if we are still going to ride planes again, we all did! The much safer 19-seater plane took us back to Manila safely and in one piece. When we encountered some turbulence, Sani held on to the headrest of the seat in front of him. Jons and DJ pretended not to feel the plane shake.

Asked how we managed to enjoy the island after what had happened, I simply told them how the group first debriefed the incident, shared our fears, talked about what could have been’s, and what we can do to make sure we get to enjoy our 2nd lease in life, not to mention what we’ve already shelled out to make the trip happen. If we didn’t debrief ourselves (no shrink was available in the island, though the priest was also in that plane), I’m sure we would never go out of villa and just sulk there.

Leaving Balesin - 19-seater British Aerospace plane

Leaving Balesin – 19-seater British Aerospace plane

As of this writing we don’t know if a case is underway. I’m not even sure if we’re the only ones trying to reach out to the other passengers.

All we know is that, we’re happy we’re alive. Thank God for the 2nd chance! Carpe Diem!

Song goes.. “ha! ha! ha! ha! stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive. ha! ha! ha! ha! stayin’ alive!!!” Thank you Bee Gees for reminding us that. =)

Post script: Until today, more than a month since the accident, Skyjet STILL has not refunded our fare for the said flight.

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20 thoughts on “Staying Alive in Balesin : Survivors’ Memoir of Skyjet Flight 5525

  1. Funny thing is that this accident didn’t spread out in mainstream media like gma and abs cbn despite skyjet serve mainly for commercial flights. Damage Control at its fullest.

    • Absolutely true. We were even worried that our families would find out, but no. They were clueless. If you google the crash, only about 5 links would show, none of them a major news outfit. Save for interAksyon. And yes, it’s damage control at its fullest.

  2. Finally some detailed account regarding this incident. and yes you are right it is only in Interaksyon I’ve got to know this news. Well media was busy covering the Earthquake news during this time and what bothers me the most is Skyjet still continue to promote and sell tickets in spite of this incident and considering they only have one plane. I’m still following this incident because I’m worried of the future passengers (if they will resume flight) of Skyjet..

    • I already emailed Dr. Mendoza, CEO of Magnum Owner – Skyjet. Apparently, I was making a follow up on the refund of the fare but he said it is to be claimed from Balesin. It’s been more than a month but we have not gotten our money back yet. How about you?
      He also made mention that there is no final report from CAAP yet confirming that it was indeed Capt. Rosales’ error.
      While Balesin is a paradise, the events surrounding the flight and the crash thereafter was just a nightmare. Balesin has not reached out to us, too. I bet it’s because we were only guests and not members.
      I hope the passengers could actually form a group or something so we can consolidate our voices and demands. I’m sure I can’t do this alone.
      If you want a more private conversation, here’s my email migzhernandez17@hotmail.com
      Let’s continue to follow the story. Oh and btw, Magnum is in the process of purchasing a new jet. News was, they planned on resuming domestic flights (not Balesin-chartered) early December.

  3. My parents and tita and cousin were on this flight,…. my sisters and i were waiting in the lobby for them to arrive kasi dun lang may wifi (nauna kami ng 1 day so we were excited to welcome them) then all of a sudden i heard “bumagsak yung eroplano sa dagat” no hesistation we ran all the way from the lobby to the plane, crying the whole time. It was traumatizing lang thinking about if my family was okay… and seeing the comment “sana namatay sila”… broke my heart.. it’s making me cry because that experience was the most horrific thing I’ve ever been through. And to see a comment like that makes me very angry. Just really thankful everyone is okay. here’s the link of the trip and I took out the incident because Balesin is a beautiful place and deserves all the praise. 🙂 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=de0lKIVLKZU&feature=c4-overview&list=UUGD4sjAx3k7AAQu-mpg7Myg

    • Yes, Balesin is indeed an enchanting island. The experience itself should not be tainted with the accident. But for me, they go together now. We’re still planning to come back, though we have not received a refund of the fair until now. Have your relatives gotten the refund for the airfare? We still have to fulfil our purpose, so to say, that’s why we survived it 🙂

  4. omg. What happened to your demands? Do you think they did something about re-training their pilots? My brothers and I are booked for a roundtrip ticket to Coron. All the while I thought this might be the safest domestic flight since Kris Aquino’s (KrisTV) advertises and had already taken Skyjet to Batanes and Coron.

    • I sent an email to the CEO (Skyjet) and said that there was nothing they could do about it because they were chartered by Balesin. Balesin has not given us our refund back. Although undeniably, their own chartered smaller planes are way safer than skyjet. they only had one fleet at the time of the crash – the one that crashed. now they have acquired a new plane. im not trying to scare you, ok. it could have been the pilot, the plane, the weather, the runway. although it’s highly likely the pilot. anyway, when i went to coron, we took the cebupac plane, which was smaller compared to the airbuses and it felt safer than the skyjet plane despite the air packets. 🙂

  5. Glad you are okay.

    You deserve a refund from either Skyjet or Balesin.

    The news about this was removed from Wikipedia. The articles you linked take forever to open. I hope they are not censoring the articles to keep this story quiet.

    • Really? I have not revisited the links since the accident. No refunds yet from any of them.

      I won’t be surprised if they have censored the articles. In the same way that wifi was down in the island when the plane crashed.

  6. Filipino “customer service” at it’s finest. Even a plane crash won’t get you a refund in the Philippines. It’s no wonder international tourism numbers are atrocious compared to the rest of SE Asia.

  7. Its like plane stopped, door opens to a beach party. Beer tastes better, probably smoke suddenly and affirm life, you nearly died but did not. Will there be a reunion of the survivors?

  8. Pingback: How Skyjet Screwed Us | The Pursuit of Perspective

  9. Maybe before writing a blog, confirm everything. Shouldn’t you be thankful that no one was hurt and even after the emergency, the crew still cared about your safety rather than them? And according to my research.. It was really weather conditions and for YOU to be able to go to your destination. The “entity” tried its best to get you to your destination even with the bad weather. Bet you would write a blog again if the flight was cancelled because of the weather.

    • Hi Joan, i bet you were there on the plane for you to say those things. I bet you felt how the FA panicked when we were circling the sky for 30 minutes without clarity whether we were going to land or not. This is a survivor’s point of view. This is not a news report, therefore I am entitled to write about my experience and the trauma it caused.
      And don’t tell me to confirm everything before I blog something because I checked CAAP’s findings about it. Tell me again why Skyjet was suspended last year?
      And, if you really read my blog, you would know that I thanked God that we were alive. He alone deserves our gratitude. Share your sources if you like, saying it was weather conditions that caused the plane overshooting the runway. Good luck!

  10. Saw a commercial of Skyjet just now so I decided to check out their website, but your blog caught my attention. Care to share what happened since then?

    • Well they have denied that it was a pilot error quoting weather to be the culprit. It was only drizzling during the flight and subsequent crash. Have strongly campaigned against the airline, but other than that, no other actions have been taken by any of the passengers nor the airline.

      I hope you reconsider getting your tickets from Skyjet but no accidents have so far happened since then. Delays, yes. Booking problems, yes. At one point, they were also suspended for a few months due to the lack of requirements. But hey, I’m just a freelance blogger. A flight attendant had to correct my blog post, but I stood my ground. 😆

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