By Florante S. Solmerin
The country’s top security officials considered the Papal visit a security “nightmare” but for the skipper of “Shepherd One” flying the Vicar of Christ in the middle of a storm it was more challenging.
And who is the fellow who asked Pope Francis to cut short his visit with the victims of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban City and Palo town in Leyte?
Captain Roland Narciso, 41, a devout Catholic, is also “mistahs” or classmates at the Philippine Military Acaddemy (PMA) “Marilag” Class 1995 and endearingly Insong, to those close to him.
As a veteran pilot, he had gained valuable experiences of flying during diffuclt situations.
“The weather was still within the limits of the Airbus A320. This was our conclusion after thoroughly considering the cloud ceiling, wind condition, and visibility,” Narciso said.
Weather updates said tropical storm “Amang” was approaching Leyte, the same place that was devastated by super typhoon Yolanda about 14 months ago.
The organizers of the Papal visit and even the pontiff himself have decided to make a go for the meeting with the people and a mass.
Narciso felt honored and privileged upon learning that his plane, the PR 8010, was chosen for the Papal flight to Tacloban City. After his 14-year career as a commercial pilot, he was now a Chief Pilot.
Narciso said that his cadet training in the Philippine Military Academy and in the PAF Flying School mattered most during that flight.
“I learned in PMA how to remain cool under pressure. I carried this trait when I began flying military aircrafts upon joining the Philippine Air Force and later, the Philippine Airlines,” he said.
Narciso also consulted his fellow pilots including PMA upperclassman, Capt. George Alvarez, about a proposal to leave at 1 p.m., four hours earlier than the scheduled departure.
“We knew it was a painful decision but we do not want to endanger our passengers, especially the Pope,” he said.
When the plane safely landed at Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport 8:30 a.m., everyone on board was applauding, including the tens of thousands of rain-soaked pilgrims who waited for the beloved leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
He was elated that the organizers and the Pope agreed to cut short his trip and granted their proposal to depart by 1 p.m.
Shepherd One made a smooth touch down in Manila at around 2:30 p.m., to the delight of the well-wishers who waited for him at Villamor Air Base.
“I sighed in relief upon landing safely, seeing the crowds of people which awaited Pope Francis. I got another shock of my life seeing the Pope entering the cockpit to congratulate us,” Narciso said.
Captain Antonio Salgado, 42, Class Baron of PMA 1995 along with Lt. Col Marlowe Patria, another classmate, who is deputy of the AFP Public Affairs Office joined in saluting Insong.