Pilot error blamed for Bell 412 crash

April 18, 2009

Manila — Pilot error was a “major factor” behind the crash of a helicopter on April 7 that killed 10 people including its two pilots, according to a Philippine Air Force investigating team.

Maj. Gerardo Zamudio, PAF spokesman, said in a statement that their investigation showed that the pilots of the aircraft tried to avoid hitting a low cloud formation and thick fog, causing it to touch trees on Mt. Pulag in Tinoc, Ifugao last April 7.

But instead of swaying on the side of it, it went below by dropping its safe altitude to avoid a cloud formation which is a very dangerous maneuver considering the terrain of the flight path to which they are in.

“The (PAF) has theorized that the pilots of the ill-fated presidential helicopter that crashed in Benguet evaded a low cloud formation and thick fog engulfing a crucial mountain pass en route to Lagawe, Ifugao from Loakan airport in Baguio City before it crashed after trying to hurdle a much lower mountain pass and duck the gathering clouds for a clearer maneuver area,” he said.

According to him, it was “highly probable” that the pilot of the Bell 412 Presidential Chopper saw fog and low-lying clouds while approaching the so-called “Kabayan-Pulag saddle.”

Maj. Gen. Jovito Gammad, chairman of the PAF Aircraft Accident Investigation Board, said initial investigation revealed that the helicopter crashed 6,900 feet above sea level between Mounts Mangingihi and Pulag in Tinoc, Benguet.

The impact site’s bearing of 280 degrees that was way off the northernly direction of 30 degrees to Lagawe indicated that Maj. Ronaldo Sacatani and Capt. Alvin Alegata, both seasoned pilots, decided to turn back instead of hurdling the Kabayan-Pulag “saddle” toward Lagawe, he said.

The Kabayan-Pulag pass is the usual gateway for PAF pilots flying the Benguet-Ifugao route because the mountain ranges that increasingly descend from that point make flying safer, he said.

As the aircraft approached the saddle, Gammad said it is highly probable that Sacatani and Alegata saw that the area beyond was covered by fog and low clouds and decided to make a turn to the left to hurdle a lower saddle before bad weather finally caught up with them.

Air Force Safety Officer Col. Manuel Morales, another board member, explained that the “saddle” refers to the northerly, less elevated and descending portion between Mt. Mangingihi and Mt. Pulag, the usual gateway for PAF pilots flying the Benguet-Ifugao route.

Three witnesses near the crash site said they saw the chopper head into a mass of clouds and disappeared and seconds later heard an explosion around 4:50 p.m.

Maj. Gen. Gammad also said that initial evidences retrieved from the crash site disclosed that the engines and flight instruments were in normal operating condition during the impact, indicating no malfunction.

“It’s difficult to move from visual to instrument flying,” Gammad said, when asked what the pilots could have done after being caught in the cloud mass.

The Accident and Investigation Board of the Philippine Air Force has already contacted the Taiwanese manufacturer of its flight equipment, Garmin, to analyze the stored flight data in the device for a clearer picture of what really transpired in the final minutes of the accident.

The helicopter left Loakan Airport in Baguio City around 4:20 p.m. on April 7 as an advance party of an ocular inspection by Malacañang of a highway segment that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was supposed to visit the following day. The Malacanang officials on board the aircraft was supposed to proceed to Lagawe as advance team for Ms Arroyo who was scheduled to visit the place.


  1. We should settle for a full account of the stored flight data from Garmin, than a "highly probable" theory of "pilot error". Everyone in the service believes that Pilot Major Sacatani is a "seasoned" pilot with proven track record though we do not rule out such highly probable blunder. https://www.drivehq.com/Bbs/BbsIndex.aspx/bbsID2066184/page4

  2. That's also what the Russians said after a Sukhoi superjet rammed Mt. Salak. Their seasoned pilot had disabled his gpws because of nuisance alerts over mountainous terrain during earlier joyride flights for prospective aircraft buyers.