Long before I was appointed Entertainment head of the country’s biggest newspaper, the Manila Bulletin, I was a news correspondent who covered the police and defense beats. In one of my unforgettable coverages, I survived a fiery landing with 12 others, including former defense chief Fidel V. Ramos, in Catarman, Samar on Dec. 19, 1990.
The Fokker reconnaissance aircraft of the Philippine Air Force caught fire when we landed at Catarman Domestic Airport. When the burning aircraft finally made a full stop, we rushed to the door near the tail of the aircraft to escape. When the door was finally opened, we jumped out of the aircraft and ran as fast as we could until the flames engulfed the entire plane. FVR was one of the last passengers to evacuate during the scary crash landing.
I suffered bruises on my body as a result of the strong impact when I was tossed and scattered inside the plane.
The plane had taken off from Villamor Air Base in Pasay City around 4 a.m. on Dec. 19 and made a brief stopover at Legaspi City before flying to Catarman. At that time, FVR was on a mission to visit the soldiers fighting the rebels in the province.
We spent the night in one of the camps in Samar. Just like the rest of the survivors, I couldn’t sleep. Some of my companions decided to play cards just to pass the time. I wanted to change clothes, but our belongings had been destroyed by fire. Later, we were given food, bath soap, toothbrush and toothpaste.
Morning came, and I still can’t believe the ordeal we went through. But deep inside, I was so happy that we were finally going back to Metro Manila. I couldn’t be more thankful to the Lord for giving us another chance to live.
While having breakfast, FVR received another earth-shaking news: one of the choppers that was supposed to fetch us crashed in a river. Fortunately, no one died.
Moments later, we were escorted to the Tacloban City Airport, now known as Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport, for our departure to Villamor Air Base. Our military plane was loaded with live chickens and eggs, but that never bothered us anymore because all we wanted was to go home.
It was around 10 a.m. when we finally arrived at Villamor Air Base. FVR was welcomed by his wife Ming Ramos. When I reached home, my father (a former police officer) was so happy to see me again. A neighbor told me that she saw my father teary-eyed. I guess those were tears of joy. Having lost my mom just a few months before my trip to Samar, I think my father couldn’t bear to lose another member of the family in such a short space of time.
When news broke out on TV that our plane crash-landed in Samar, everyone in the house was shocked. They were glued to the television and waited for an official announcement on the fate of the passengers. My family and friends heaved a big sigh of relief after it was confirmed that all the passengers were safe.
My journey with FVR did not stop there. When he became President in 1992, I was assigned by Ben Rodriguez, our former editor-in-chief, to cover his first state visit to Seoul, South Korea. ‘Twas a memorable trip because it was my first time to travel abroad as a news correspondent. And the rest is history.
A salute to one of the best Filipino leaders we ever had. Thank you, Mr. President, for the ride of a lifetime. It was a blast!
(Robert R. Requintina is the Entertainment Editor of Manila Bulletin)