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Tragedy quashes dream


Flying a plane was not in her radar, but after becoming a flight attendant, Paula Vianca Robles began nurturing dreams to become a pilot.

“Back in college, that wasn’t really her plan,” said a former classmate who asked not to be identified. “She only wanted to be a flight attendant. Then later on, siguro na-inspire siya mag-piloto kaya nag-enroll siya for it.”

Robles, a 25-year-old student pilot, and her flight instructor, John Kaizan Estabillo, were killed Friday when the Cessna training plane they were riding went down into the Santiago Cove in Barangay Sabangan, Santiago, Ilocos Sur.

Their bodies were retrieved at 7 a.m. yesterday after poor visibility hampered the search the day before, according to Mike Chan, head of the province’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Before the crash, witnesses said the plane was flying low and one of the wings got entangled with the zip line cable.

The plane crashed at 3:36 p.m., according to Mayor Josefino Miranda. “The representative of the plane who talked to us last night said that Santiago Cove is not part of its training route and they were surprised to learn that it reached this coastal town,” said Miranda.

Robles finished a degree on visual design at Miriam College in Quezon City and joined Philippine Airlines two years ago.

Her former classmate, now based abroad, remembers Robles as the “ate (elder sister) of our group.” “She was an amazing friend to everyone. Very responsible and academically inclined,” she said.

The last time they talked online was last week when Robles narrated her experience of flying solo for the first time.

“She was so happy about how exciting and nerve wracking her solo flight was,” her classmate said.

The plane is owned by the Leading Edge International Aviation Academy based in San Fernando City, La Union. The aircraft, according to an official of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, was doing some “touch and go” training.

Estabillo was the 21-year-old son of a former Philippine Air Force pilot, according to Leading Edge executive Edgardo Mendoza. “He attended the academy and became a flight instructor only this year,” said Mendoza.

The academy, now on its ninth year, is run by a cooperative composed of former PAF pilots and has produced hundreds of pilots, according to Mendoza.

It owns a fleet of 14 aircraft which it bought in the United States, including the ill-fated Cessna training plane.

There had been accidents in the past, but Friday’s crash marked the first time the academy lost lives. “It’s a very difficult times for us,” said Mendoza. (With reports from Mar T. Supnad and Freddie G. Lazaro) (REY BANCOD)