Chopper crashes won’t stop generals from working

The first words that came from the mouth of PNP chief, General Archie Gamboa when he was plucked out from the wreckage of an ill-fated police helicopter in San Pedro City, Laguna last Thursday morning was: look for my men, get them to a safe place.

He was referring to his PMA Class 1986 classmates, PNP Comptroller, Major Gen. Joevic Ramos, PNP Director for Intelligence, Major Gen. Mariel Magaway, PNP spokesman, Brigadier Gen. Bernie Banac and his aide-de-camp,’ Captain Kevin Gayramara as well as chopper pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Roel Zalatar, co-pilot, Lt. Col. Rico Macawili and crew, Senior Master Sergeant Louie Estona.

According to  Police Regional Office 4-A director, Brig. Gen. Vic Danao, the take-off site in Barangay San Antonio was sandy and the chopper’s propellers fanned the debris, creating poor visibility. The PNP Chief was in the area because he visited the PNP Highway Patrol Group impounding area and reminded the entire police force that there is no room  in their organizationfor policemen using recovered stolen motor vehicles and the like.

The afternoon before the chopper crash, I was talking with PNP-HPG director, Brig. Gen. Ely Cruz when Gen. Gamboa called him up to prepare for his visit to their impounding area as he wants to address the ‘overcrowding’ problem and lack of parking space in Camp Crame. Shortly after inspecting the HPG impounding area, the PNP chief boarded the chopper that will bring him to the PRO4-A headquarters where Danao and company was waiting.

While the whole country prayed for the quick and speedy recovery of the eight that fateful morning, an accident which is seemingly impossible to avoid, I’m terribly saddened by the news that my good friends, Maj. Generals Ramos and Magaway were badly injured as a result of the crash.

Yesterday, I learned that Ramos, a good friend way back in his younger days already has stable blood pressure but still in maximum inotropic support and connected to a mechanical ventilator at the intensive care unit  of Unihealth Southwoods Hospital and Medical Center in Biñan City.  However, he can’t be transferred to a Metro Manila hospital due to his condition.

Hours after I visited him in his room at the St. Lukes’ Hospital-BGC in Taguig City, the PNP chief and his aide were discharged following their doctors’ advice. Banac is still in the same hospital waiting for official advice from his attending physicians. However, he was already in a very good mood when I and his classmates from PMA ‘Tanglaw Diwa’ Class of 1992: Colonels Ronald Lee, Sydney Villaflor and CJ Cirujales visited him.

My family and I are one with the entire nation in praying for the full and speedy recovery of the crash victims, specifically my friends, Maj. Generals Ramos and Magaway who is now being taken care of by medical experts at the Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Alabang, Muntinlupa City.

Gen. Gamboa is weeping for his badly-injured mistahs. He told me that after he regained consciousness, he wept over and over again after hearing the news that Jovic Ramos, his ‘BFF’ was in a comatose condition. He told me that as soon as he is discharged from the hospital, he would visit the two generals first.

That incident however did not stop our police force from working. While the organization joined hands in praying for the immediate and quick recovery of the eight, the PNP Command Group composed of Lieutenant Generals Pikoy Cascolan and Gilor Eleazar and Major Gen. Cesar Binag convened and ordered the temporary grounding of the entire PNP fleet of rotary-wing aircrafts which include several Airbus H-125, Bell-429 and Robinson R-44 multi-role police helicopters.

Maj. Gen. Bong Durana, the PNP Director for Police-Community Relations said that a Special Investigation Task Group has been created to look into the incident. Initially, eyewitnesses said that the helicopter crashed after an accidental contact with overhead power lines. I would like to congratulate policemen and other people who immediately came to the rescue of the victims and prevent them from being caught inside the already burning chopper.

My basketball buddie, Lt. Gen. Cascolan was greatly affected by the news of the chopper crash. He had reasons to be since Generals Gamboa, Ramos and Magaway are his mistahs. 2nd, it brings back bad memories of a similar helicopter crash on November 15, 2016 wherein Cascolan and 12 others including three other police generals were nearly killed when the Air Force Sokol helicopter carrying them crash-landed in Puerto Princesa City triggering calls for the PNP to procure more modern helicopters and other air assets.

I was told that Gen. Cascolan rushed to Laguna after the incident and joined by PNP Director for Operations, Maj. Ge. Ringo Licup,  escorted Maj. Gen. Magaway to the emergency room of Asian Hospital. Later in the afternoon, the official went to visit his mistah, Gen. Gamboa and Banac at the St. Lukes’ BGC.

A teammate from the PNP Executive Basketball Team, I could not forget an incident on November 15, 2016 wherein Gen. Cascolan and 12 others including three other police generals were nearly killed when the Air Force Sokol helicopter carrying them crash-landed in Puerto Princesa City and triggered calls for the PNP to procure more modern helicopters and other air assets.  

I still can recall that afternoon when I managed to contact Cascolan and then Police Regional Office 4-B director, another good friend, now retired Brig. Gen. Wilben Mayor and finally heaved a sigh of relief after both told me they and their fellow chopper passengers were A-OK.

It turned out that for the 2nd time, the Polish-supplied Sokol helicopter crash-landed after developing engine trouble in mid-air.  I learned that the helicopter failed to immediately take off as its rotors were not functioning perfectly. However, after revving up for over 30 minutes, the pilot decided to fly until one of the chopper’s two engines conked out while the aircraft was around 7,000 feet above the ground.  

Flying only on one engine, the pilot looked for a safe place to land until the 2nd engine conked out. The pilot lost control of the helicopter which landed on its belly on an open field in Sitio Sabang in Barangay Cabayugan in Puerto Princesa City.