Pilot, female lieutenant among those killed in Sulu crash

Published July 6, 2021, 1:11 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

The pilot-in-command of the ill-fated C-130 transport aircraft and a female lieutenant were among the 52 individuals who died in a military plane crash in Patikul, Sulu last Sunday, July 4.

Major Emmanuel Makalintal (Photo courtesy of Charis Abella Makalintal)
Lt. Sheena Alexandrea Tato (Photo courtesy of Sheen Tato)

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, Gen. Cirilito Sobejana identified Tuesday, July 6, the fatalities as Major Emmanuel Makalintal, the most senior among the three pilots of the crashed airplane; and Lt. Sheena Alexandrea Tato, a military flight nurse.

Sobejana said Makalintal was a “seasoned” pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours on a C-130 plane.

During Pres. Duterte’s visit to the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NavForWes) headquarters in Zamboanga City on Monday, Sobejana said the Commander-in-Chief bestowed the Order of Lapu-Lapu with a rank of “Kalasag” to six military officers who died in the plane crash, including Makalintal.

“The President was really saddened of what had happened and unfortunately wala pong dependents na nakarating doon (there was no dependent of the victims present) except for the older brother of the pilot-in-command, Major Makalintal. He was there physically present so he was the only relative present during the visit of the President,” Sobejana said in an interview over CNN Philippines.

Aside from Makalintal, Duterte also bestowed the Order of Lapu-Lapu with a rank of Kalasag to three Privates, a Technical Sergeant, and a Captain. The Order is a military merit conferred by a President to officials and personnel of the government and private individuals “in recognition of their invaluable or extraordinary service in relation to a campaign or advocacy of the President.”

Duterte also conferred the Order of Lapu-Lapu with a rank of “Kampilan” to the soldiers who got wounded.

As of latest tally, the death toll in the plane crash rose to 52 –49 military personnel and three civilians– after two more soldiers died on Monday night. Forty-seven soldiers and four civilians were also injured in the air mishap.

A joker’s premonition

A seasoned pilot, Makalintal was a product of the Philippine Military Academy Class “Maragtas” Class of 2007.

Makalintal’s sister-in-law, Charis Abella Makalintal, who is also a pilot, remembered him as a “joker,” a “very humble and kind” person.

She said Makalintal was about to retire in 2023 to follow his wife, Ailene, to the United States when the tragedy struck.

On June 27, a week before the crash, Charis said Makalintal went to their house and appeared to have sent a premonition of the looming tragedy.

She said Makalintal asked her if she believes in the fate (kapalaran) of a person as he recalled those who died in the June 23 Blackhawk chopper crash in Tarlac.

“Sister, naniniwala ka ba sa kapalaran ng tao (Sister, do you believe in the fate of a person?),” Makalintal asked Chariss.

“Oo sir, kung oras mo na, oras mo na. Wala ng makakapigil doon (Yes sir, if it’s your time to go, then it’s your time. Nobody can ever stop that),” she replied.

“Eh paano ‘yong mga nagka-emergency lang for example sa liparan tapos nabuhay pa (What about those who figured in emergencies while on a flight and they still live?),” he again asked.

“Ganoon talaga, sir. Ibig sabihin hindi pa nila time (That’s just the way it is, sir. It means it’s not yet their time,” she answered, not knowing that it would be the last time she would be able to talk to her brother-in-law.

Makalintal also became Charis’ squad commander and instructor pilot in the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

“Walang araw na hindi mo ako kinakamusta, kung masaya ba ako, kung tama ba o mali ako sa desisyon ko, kung malaki na ba ang tiyan ko, at kung anu-ano pa. May mga araw pa na tatawag ka para lang mag-joke (There was not a single day that you don’t ask me how I was, if I am happy, if I made the right choices, if my tummy is already big, and many more. There were days that you would also call just to hit a joke),” she said.

“Napakabait mo, napakahumble mo. Napakaswerte ko dahil nakilala kila, nakasama kita, naging upperclass kita, naging IP kita, naging squad commander kita, naging kaibigan kita, at habang buhay bilang isang kapatid (You were so kind, so humble. I am so lucky to have known you, shared moments with you, became my upperclassman, my instructor pilot, squad commander, a friend, and forever a brother),” she added.

‘I love my sister’

Meanwhile, Sobejana said Tato was a nurse by profession and was part of the medical team aboard the crashed airplane.

Tato was a native of Pagadian City. She graduated Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the Brokenshire College in 2011. In 2015, she joined the Philippine Air Force and became a member of the Nurse Corps.

“Nurse si Lt. Tato at kasama po siya sa medical team onboard doon sa naturang aircraft (Lt. Tato was a nurse and she was among the members of a medical team onboard the said aircraft),” the AFP Chief said in a separate interview over dzMM.

“Patay po. Very unfortunate kasama siya doon sa mga nasawi (She died. It was very unfortunate that she was among those killed),” he added.

Tato’s brother, Sheen, thanked the military responders and local residents in Barangay Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu who pulled the body of her sister from the burning aircraft.

“Hindi kayo nagdalawang-isip na tulungan ang mga sundalo. Kahit nakita niyo na umaapoy at sumasabog, sinuong niyo ang peligro para mailigtas sila at marecover ang kapatid ko at mga kasamahan niya. Ganoon din sa mga sundalo na rumesponde (You did not hesitate to help the soldiers. Even if you saw that [the plane] was burning and there were explosions, you still took the risk to save and recover my sister and her colleagues. I also thank the soldiers who responded),” he said.

“Mahal ko ang kapatid ko (I love you, my sister),” he said.

Sobejana said the Armed Forces will extend all the necessary assistance to the families of the killed in action (KIA) and wounded in action (WIA) based on the instructions of Duterte.

A full military honors will also be given to the KIAs during their burial in their respective hometowns.