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A 45-year-old co-pilot suffered an apparent heart attack while landing a passenger plane Saturday, but Cebu Pacific Flight 5J548 touched down safely at the Cebu-Mactan International Airport with another pilot at the controls.
First officer Margarito Auza Austria Jr., a decorated military helicopter pilot, was rushed to the Mactan Doctors Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said that the lives of 136 passengers, including six crew members were not put at risk at any point during the incident.
“On their way to touch down, nag complain itong co-pilot na nahihilo siya. Of course, the pilot took over, ibinaba niya ang eroplano,” said CAAP spokesman Eric Apolonio yesterday.
“Napansin niya (pilot) na hindi sumasagot ‘yung co-pilot, tinapik niya pero unconscious na,” he added.
Apolonio said the pilot, who he did not identify, informed the control tower about the emergency.
An investigation is under way, according to the CAAP.
“We have to secure a copy of the flight data recorder para malaman kung ano talaga ang nangyari based sa usapan nila bago bumaba ‘yung eroplano. Madidinig mo lahat doon, eh,” Apolonio said.
Apparently, Austria had no history of heart trouble.
“Clean living ‘yung tao, eh. He didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink. Tingnan natin what led to his death. Medico legal ‘yan eh. Kaya ito ay under investigation pa because we couldn’t get the full picture of what happened,” Apolonio said.
The plane, an A320 airbus, landed at 8:08 a.m.
There were similar cases in the past, according to Apolonio, “but these are very seldom.”
He said Austria submitted a clean bill of health, but added that they may have to review their medical program.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Francis Karem Elazegui Neri announced Austria’s death.
Neri introduced himself as classmate of Austria who belonged to the Philippine Air Force Class of 1995.
According to Neri, Austria was assigned to the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing and became a seasoned tactical pilot of the UH-1H Huey combat utility helicopter.
“He had seen much action in numerous counter-insurgency and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and was highly decorated for his deeds and accomplishments,” Neri wrote.
Neri said that Austria left after serving the Air Force for 20 years and joined Cebu Pacific Airlines.
Austria hailed from San Roque, Talibon, Bohol. He earned a degree in nursing at the University of San Carlos.
He left his wife Queenie Auster and three children. (MARTIN SADONGDONG)