We had Carlo’s birthday lunch at Mario’s, Baguio.
They used to have Dagwood’s corned beef and cabbage on the menu, but no longer.
I can still get their lentejas con chorizo, and Carlo never passes on their gambas. They have a packed dessert cart, too.
The HS748 crashed because the pilots followed the wrong river. It flew into Mt. Ugo. They saw the mountain too late in low visibility, and climbed desperately into IMC, into the clouds. They hit just short of the peak. Dead end.
There is a small shrine up there, placed by mountain climbers.
After 1987 the airline procedures called for a visual descent from 9,500 feet or higher within 20 miles. If they’re not visual, they abort.
They no longer fly there today.
In October of 2007, I flew up the Agno river, below clouds. I called Baguio Tower. But my VHF radio was blocked by mountains.
Again, the Spirit above me, en route from Baguio to Manila at 10,000 feet, came up on 123.50, offering to relay my radio calls.
I remember this clearly. A cheerful, conscientious voice.
Cheerful Spirit: 1513, Baguio Tower reports broken cloud, VFR is … .
Before he could continue, an older, grumpy voice shouted into the frequency.
Grumpy Spirit: IT’S NOT BROKEN CLOUD! IT’S OVERCAST!
Then there was silence on the radio. Who the heck was that?
Then I realized their call sign, “Spirit 760”, was not a flight from Baguio. It was the flight going to Baguio, ETA 10:50 am. They were going back to Manila with the same call sign, instead of “Spirit 761”. I looked at my watch. It was 10:45 am.
I got it.
Both voices were from Spirit 760. The flight number and call sign had not changed because the flight did not land at Baguio, due to clouds. The angry pilot was scolding the cheerful pilot, on the air, for relaying Baguio Tower’s report of "broken cloud". If they couldn’t see the runway, damn it, it must be overcast!
But in my lower, slower airplane, down at 6,500 feet, I was already under the clouds, whether broken or overcast. The terrain was a mental terror, and the clouds were a mental terror but terrain or clouds aren’t the problem. Terrain inside clouds is the problem.
On long final approach to runway 27 I was, as usual at Baguio, high on final.
The Tower, looking for us, finally gave up and asked what altitude we were at.
"Passing 6,000 feet, descending."
I must have been at least 1,000 feet above his line of sight. There was a pause, then he blew me away with,
"1513, will you make it?"
There was only one confident answer to that.
"Affirm that, sir!"
Later, the ramp guy told me they saw the Asian Spirit YS-11 maneuvering above the airport, but the flight aborted and returned to Manila. The crew could not see the airport.
The marooned passengers wondered why a big, twin-engine turboprop couldn’t land if a Cessna could.
They say a ‘good’ landing is one you can walk away from, and a ‘great’ landing is where you can use the airplane again. The Spirit’s pilot in command showed that the perfect landing is sometimes one where you don’t land at all.
He made the absolutely right call.
Posted from Manila, Sep 14, 2008
Next: Rush Hour at Baguio
PinoyMountaineer has excellent information on climbing Mt. Ugo, its history, and details of the crash of PAL’s flight PR206. It’s a well-written and illustrated site.
The Itogon Municipality site has intriguing information about an earlier crash of a US Navy UC45 in the 1960s, and the crash of the Philippine Air Force helicopter during recovery operations of the PAL crash.