Risk, danger are all worth it for PAF pilots involved in food drops, daring rescue of quake victims
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — The Philippine Air Force sent more helicopters to bring food to isolated earthquake-hit villages in North Cotabato but pilots are encountering more difficulties to complete their mission.
Lieutenant Colonel Florante Baterina, commander of the PAF Tactical Operations Group 11 based in Davao City, said it was not unusual for the pilots and helicopters to encounter strong winds as they try to drop food supplies in low altitude.
But the mountainous terrain in North Cotabato make it more difficult for the rescue helicopters and pilots, Baterina said.
“Imagine Mount Apo is the top of a pyramid. We are trying to land on its side,” Huey pilot Captain Frankloyd Tabat said.
Tabat, a Cebuano, piloted one of the two helicopters that made the daring rescue of 15 residents in Sitio Kapatagan, Makilala town, North Cotabato on November 3.
He piloted a Bell 412 helicopter, an aircraft assigned to President Rodrigo Duterte and is based in Davao City.
President Duterte, who was in Bangkok at the height of the search, rescue and relief operations for residents of North Cotabato badly hit by the October 31 magnitude 6.5 quake, ordered Tabat and his helicopter to participate in the rescue and relief operations.
Tabat said he was assigned as lead helicopter last November 3 together with the Bell UH-1H “Super Huey” helicopter of the PAF 505th Search and Rescue Group.
“We prayed for good weather before the mission and God gave us everything,” Tabat said.
Prior to that, Baterina sent a small team of soldiers to hike up the mountains to Sitio Kapatagan to scout for possible landing sites.
The rocky precipice at 3,000 feet above sea level that was about to collapse was the only good land site that the soldiers found.
Tabat said they made the first attempt on November 2 but were driven back by strong sudden gusts of winds.
They dropped some food supplies to the villagers instead.
On November 3, God answered their prayers.
“I made the first landing while the white helicopter hovered above looking for any danger,” Tabat recalled.
He immediately saw that the rock precipice was crumbling and nearby trees posed serious risks for their helicopter propeller blades.
Tabat said with the guidance of their door gunner, he slowly maneuvered his Bell 412 to land on the precipice.
“I was careful because the weight of my helicopter could collapse the landing site,” he said.
Tabat said he made a “light on skid” landing- a maneuver that allows helicopters to hover with their landing gear barely touching the ground.
Successful with the maneuver, he pulled away from the precipice after dropping his passengers, including Danilo Doquiles, the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) 12 photographer who joined to document the operation, and picking up eight residents stranded in the area.
Tabat radioed Captain Neil Jasper Layug who was piloting the second white helicopter to land following the maneuvers he made.
“If you asked was I scared, yes I was scared. I saw rocks and soil crumbling when the other helicopter landed and took off,” Layug told CDN Digital by phone on Saturday, November 9, 2019.
Layug landed safely and airlifted seven residents. Like Tabat before him, Layug took off before diving into the 3,000 feet above sea level space to gain speed.
Both helicopters were able to airlift a total of 15 residents from Sitio Kapatagan, a mountain village located at 3,000 feet above sea level beside Mount Apo.
Layug said all the fear they felt disappeared the moment they landed safely at the North Cotabato provincial capitol in Amas, Kidapawan City.
He said three children, who were among the 15 residents they rescued, came up to the pilots and offered them the puppies they have carried in the flight.
“The children told us they want us to have the puppies as gifts in exchange for saving their lives,” Layug narrated.
Layug said they were all teary-eyed by the gesture but they did not accept the gifts.
“We did not mind the danger. We will do it again so others may live,” Layug said./elb
Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of Cebudailynews. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.