I have been logging thousands of air travel miles both in my domestic and international flights to and from my various travel destinations but never had I met a travel experience as life-threatening as my flight from Cebu City in the Visayas to Ozamiz City in Mindanao, Philippines.
It was a gloomy Monday morning amid a long-running Low Pressure Area hopping from one province to another in Mindanao Island but the Waiting Lounge of Boarding Gate No. 7 at Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Mactan Island, Cebu were full of passengers gearing for air travel and seemed to be business as usual…
I preferred to take the 8:00 A.M. PAL Express flight over the Cebu Pacific Air plying the same route but at a later departure time as I was in a hurry to catch up that very important one-day engagement with Lorenzo Tan Multi-Purpose Cooperative (LTMPC) in Tangub City upon invitation of their General Manager Ben Canama, whom I consider to be one of my closest friends in the Philippine Cooperative Movement.
However, I scratched my head in disappointment when a pleasant lady voice came out of the pubic address system announcing that our flight would be delayed due to the late arrival of the plane that we are supposed to board thereby paving the way for the Cebu Pacific passengers to have their air travel ahead of us. Nevertheless, I had a sigh of relief when boarding time was announced thirty minutes later.
My air travel worries faded away when the ascent of the 70-seater De Havilland Dash-8-400 Turboprop, also known in the commercial aviation world as the Bombardier Q400 turboprop, was perfect and the ensuing cruise amid the gloomy skies was never bumpy. Hence, a smooth and free market of ideas occurred between me and my seatmate Maricelle Nueva, a close friend and LTMPC Board of Director, about the bright prospects looming in the horizon of Philippine cooperative movement with the impending unification of MASS-SPECC and NATCCO co-op federations.
But the turning point of our flight occurred when we broke through the lower level clouds on our angling descent to Ozamiz National Airport and I could clearly see blanket of fogs hovering over the runway. After hearing the voice of the pilot that we need to go back to Mactan-Cebu International Airport, the plane ascended at full speed only to met a Clear-Air Turbulence (CAT), sometimes colloquially referred to as air pocket, along the way.
My worry meter started to heat up when the plane staggered as the upward and downward-moving air currents buffeted on its body and wings at the same time from different directions. But, it was the plane’s literal drop like a rock, which made me feel like my liver rushing up to push and dislodge my heart out of my chest that scared the bejesus out of me.
Luckily, the initial screaming died down as the passengers went into sobering prayers with only an infant’s wail disturbing the deafening silence. I turned to Maricelle to appease her that it would be fine only to find her eyes firmly closed in prayer but with knuckles visibly turning white. I then silently communicated to God with a prayer… I have still many works to do for my family and fellow men, but Your will be done.
With Divine intervention, the pilot was able to successfully steer the plane back to Mactan-Cebu International Airport. As the plane was taxing on the tarmac, and while we were still on a state of shock, I failed to hold my smile back when a lady passenger screamed that it was only the name of Vilma Santos, a Philippine actress turned politician, which she failed to call when she was begging to all saints for intercession.
Slogging into the airport arrival area, this signage seemed much more meaningful to me than before . . .
Still nursing from shock, we were still able to smile as we took turns re-booking and/or cancelling our plane tickets at the PAL Ticket Office . . .
Life-Threatening Air Travel: Lessons Learned
Candidly, being a first-timer of such a bumpy and life-threatening air travel, the almost half-an-hour plane staggering and dropping cycle had sent shivers down my spine as I felt that I was on my way to a date with death. Though air travel veterans equate a plane hitting an air pocket as that of a car or bus bumping on a pot hole in the road and, hence, almost literally harmless but I considered it as a life changing experience for gaining important lessons out of it. For one, it opened my eyes to tone down my adventurous and risk-taker stand as I vow to place safety over exigency the next time around. Second and most importantly, my air travel ordeal had re-enforced my faith in God who is always there up high guiding my destiny.