There used to be a disco (remember those?) in Baguio called Spirits. Not sure if it’s still around.
Until last month, Asian Spirit operated flights to Baguio 4 times a week. The inbound flight, call sign Spirit 760, arrived at 1050.
The outbound Spirit 761 left at 1110. NAMC YS-11s and De Haviland Dash 7s.
The flights are no longer on their website. Spirits come and go.
There are 3 routes to Baguio for general aviation. From the south, via Kennon Road. From the west, from Aringay. And from the southeast, along the Agno river.
The Kennon Road route is for helicopters only. They fly, not drive, along the Bued river canyon, along which Kennon runs.
The other route is up the western beaches of La Union to Aringay, then a hop directly east over rapidly rising terrain, following the Marcos Highway to Baguio City. Then a turn southeast to join left base for runway 09.
Fearsome towering Cu or thunderstorms haunt here. Lingayen Gulf, moisture, mountains — weather factory.
Our favored route is up the Agno river canyon.
Exit Clark’s control zone at Concepcion, Tarlac.
Climb 6,500 feet or higher heading north, 002 degrees magnetic.
At 50 nautical miles, overfly San Roque dam, the biggest hydroelectric dam in southeast Asia.
Fly over the lake (tribal land submerged by the dam) and follow the Agno river north.
We can almost reach out and touch the ridges.
If an engine quits here, and we’ve lived cleanly with pure hearts, we will wade or swim the Agno back to the dam and civilization.
Looking for forced landing spots here is dispiriting. Still, I charge my cellphones before flying to Baguio, and I wear rugged walking shoes. Carlo wears combat boots. Really.
We follow the ravine for 15 nautical miles (10 minutes of clean living with a pure heart), until Binga Dam is dead ahead.
Binga Dam is the next dam on the Agno (you can dam a river as many times as you like, think about it).
The third dam is Ambuklao, barely visible further north.
Just short of Binga Dam, over the village of Pitican, we make a 90-degree left turn, to the west.
Straight ahead is runway 27. We are now on a 5-mile final.
I’m exhilaratingly high on achievement, success, pride.
I’m also way high on final.
We’ve written about imagined terrors in flying to Baguio. Below, in the order of increasing danger, are the Top Three real hazards.
Moisture from Lingayen Gulf transmogrifies into stratus or towering Cu over the Cordilleras. Clouds and mountains team up well against pilots, in a contest known as Pin the Mountain On The Pilot’s Tail. Blindfolded. A no-win game.
One day in 2005 I was over San Roque dam, and the clouds looked low. These are actual pictures taken by my passenger.
I’d been watching the clouds for 10 minutes. I decided to abort.
I orbited San Roque dam, calling Baguio Tower on 123.50 to let them know. But VHF line of sight was blocked by the mountains.
The Spirit intervened. Spirit 761, that is. Outbound above me from Baguio to Manila.
He relayed my request for weather at Baguio, and relayed Baguio’s reply. VFR open.
Spirit 761’s Captain asked what aircraft I was flying. Then he urged me on. As best as I can remember, his next words were,
“Haze lang, mataas naman ang ceiling, kitang-kita ang bundok. Don’t climb, lalo mong hindi makikita.”
I concurred and went to take a look.
He was right. The ceiling was 1,000 feet above me and higher than any peak in the vicinity.
Visibility was at least 8 nm in light haze.
We were spring-loaded for a max performance climb into the overcast, if we got into IMC, but there was no need.
Fifteen minutes later we were on the ground at Loakan.
In 1987 a Hawker Siddley 748 did the same thing. But that time, the ceilings were lower than the peaks. The F/O sounded anxious on the CVR, but the Captain was confident about following the Agno river.
Unfortunately the were over another river, just east of the correct one, Agno. Their river canyon dead-ended at Mt Ugo, and they hit just short of the summit. They were only 12 miles away from Loakan.
Continued VFR flight into IMC is an even more brutal killer when the clouds have rock or granite centers. That’s the lesson that the HS748 pilots taught us. We need to honor that. Combat boots are optional.
Posted from Bangkok, Sep 10, 2008
Next: More ghost stories from Baguio… .