On Friday, September 9, 2011, I was enroute to Manila on board Cebu Pacific Flight 5J694 to attend a work-related event in Quezon City. It was a cloudy day.

Earlier at the Davao International Airport, I noticed a lady in her mid-30s and looks like a TV star as many passengers and airport personnel were looking at her. In my mind, I assumed that she must be a TV star.  As I was about to check in at the counter, I saw one Cebu Pacific staff tapped one of her colleagues to attend to that lady in a separate counter. She was alone.

I was surprised why they had to open one counter just for her. Being a journalist, I didn’t bother to ask the Cebu Pacific staff who was about to issue my boarding pass. “Miss, kinsa diay na ngano daghan lagi gapa-picture?”  She replied: “Ah, si Isabel Granda gud sir.”

Oh, I didn’t recognize her, as usual, since I don’t really watch telenovelas at home and even Filipino movies. But I know that there was an actress named Isabel Granada.

After passing the second and final x-ray/security check, I stopped by a cafe beside the VIP lounge and grabbed a cup of tea to ease my cough.  At around 10am, we started the board the plane. Passengers had to walk on the ramp and use the stairs going inside the aircraft.

I took few shots of the aircraft while walking on the ramp. I also took a photo of the A320’s tail  before going in. I noticed few babies were also on board and few elderly people. My seat assignment was 18C, which I actually requested to the staff to put me on the aisle near the wing.  But as got to the 18C, Isabel already occupied my seat. Then a woman behind me told me to occupy the window seat instead. Later I discovered that she was Isabel’s buddy, a short-haired tall and burly woman.

When everyone was on board, the burly woman sat between me and Isabel.

The plane  took off around 10:30am.

About 20 minutes after the flight, one of the flight attendants paged for a medical doctor on board. Of course, she did not mention why they need a doctor. But my attention was towards a mother holding her baby who was standing about  five rows away on the right side in front of me. I thought it was the baby that needs a medical attention. 

But then another flight attendant asked a man and his wife to move to the rear of the plane. Take note: the man was still able to walk to the tail of the aircraft.

Then a woman, who turned out to be the doctor, followed the couple to the rear of the aircraft. About 2-3 minutes later, I saw one the flight attendants holding a small oxygen tank, which she got from the compartment of the aircraft. I could  barely see the patient since he was seated at the last row of seats. But I noticed through the facial expression of some of the flight attendants that they are gravely worried.

Looking at the faces of other passengers, they were worried too. There was silence inside the plane.

Isabel and her buddy who moved to vacant seats — Isabel to the 19D while her buddy to the 19C– also look worried and occasionally turn their heads towards the rear of the aircraft.

About a minute later, the flight attendant paged again for another medical doctor on board. A man, who turned out to be another doctor, stood and walked to the rear of the airplane. About another minute have passed, I turned my attention to the rear of the aircraft, I already saw the patient lying on the floor as the male doctor was doing a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the patient. I just counted five then I turned my head and continued reading “War” by Sebastian Junger.

But while the doctor was doing the CPR, I noticed the patient’s foot was already pale. I saw one of the flight attendants carrying a dark blue blanket, which I thought would be given to the patient for some reasons. But the blanket was used to cover the body, I never thought that he was going to die up in the air.

I did not wear my watch because of the hustles of the security check at the airport, so I asked Isabel’s buddy to check the time, it was 10:55am.  Other passengers were also wondering why the pilot did not attempt to take an emergency landing in Cebu or return to Davao.

A flight attendant approached a woman seated on the 17C and asked her if she is a relative of the patient. She said no. She was the one who informed the flight attendant regarding the complains of the man.

While the plane was still on the ground, she said that she already heard the man complaining of chest pains after they’ve just boarded the plane. She said that was a little bit worried but she never thought it would worsen. She did not bother to advise the couple to get off the plane because she thought that he could handle it. It turned out to be worse than she expected.

Isabel went on the wife of the man and comforted her for few minutes.

A dead man was lying at the rear of the aircraft an hour away from Manila.

As we landed at the NAIA-3, I thought the airport personnel would remove the body first before the passengers could disembark. But the pilot announced that we could not get off the plane until the airport quarantine inspectors would arrive.

Two men, apparently doctors, boarded through the front door of the airplane and went straight to the dead man. Few minutes later, the captain announced that we could now disembark from the aircraft.

Before going out the plane, I asked one of the flight attendants if how old the is man. She said: 59.

I took several shots of the dead man on the floor but I opt to keep it in my hard disk for now.

I’m still wondering why the captain did not decide to take an emergency landing in the nearest airport — either Cebu or Iloilo. Or maybe return to Davao. It is now for the doctors, who attended to the patient, to explain why. Maybe it was too costly for the part of airline to land the plane considering the fuel and the delays it may cost.

When we landed in Manila, I informed some friends in the media, particularly the TV, but only the TV5 in Davao aired the story.

Sun Star Davao quoted Candice Iyog, Cebu Pacific Air spokesperson, who confirmed that a passenger expired from an “existing medical concern due to heart attack.” She did not give further information, the report said.

She was also quoted saying that the passenger died at 10:05am, which means that the plane was still on the ground. How could the EXIF of that photo above that was taken 10:34am?

The report also added: “Under the General Terms and Conditions of Carriage of Passengers and Baggage Clause 15 “Limitation of Liability for Damage” posted in its website, Cebu Pacific said it is “not responsible for any illness or disability, including death attributable to the passenger’s physical condition at the time he takes his flight or for the aggravation of such condition by reason of his taking the flight.”

Cebu Pacific actually saved a life on April 14, 2011 when it took an emergency landing after a passenger suffered high blood pressure just 30 minutes after taking off from Manila. The flight 5J 995 of Cebu Pacific Air was bound for General Santos City.  This is a different case but it still saved the woman’s life.

Medical emergency forces Cebu Pac flight to land

ON BOARD CEBU PACIFIC (MindaNews/14 Apr) – Flight 5J 995 of Cebu Pacific Air bound for General Santos City from Manila made an emergency landing at the NAIA 3 terminal after a passenger suffered high blood pressure just 30 minutes after taking off Thursday afternoon.

A member of the cabin crew who only gave her initial as MYJ, who was alerted of the medical situation, paged for a doctor on board during the tense moment.

Luckily for 72-year-old Leonida Rosqueta, a vacationing Filipino-British doctor was on the same flight.

Dr. Sukheri Sheikh said Rosqueta was “unresponsive” when she attended to her.

“She was unresponsive for like five minutes and her pulse was very weak,” said the lady doctor.

Rosqueta reportedly experienced difficulty in breathing as soon as the plane took off at around 1 p.m. and felt ill after relieving herself when the seatbelt sign was turned off.

She staggered in going back and thereafter collapsed on her seat.

Her daughter, Maribel Pascua, said her mother was under medication and took Pretor 40 before boarding the flight.

Rosqueta, who was unconscious for about five minutes while being attended to by Dr. Sheikh, was later evacuated from the plane at NAIA 3 where a medical emergency crew immediately whisked her off to the nearest hospital.

Dr. Sheikh said the timely first aid she administered on the Tacurong City resident may have saved her life.

Sheikh never left Rosqueta while at the plane, even administering a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for close to 10 minutes.

Flight pilot Capt. Ramos Austria made a quick decision to redirect the flight to Manila after a quick check on the patient and conferring with Dr. Sheikh.

The plane made the emergency landing at the NAIA 3 terminal at 2:35 pm.

When interviewed later, Dr. Sheikh said she is on a 10-day vacation with her mother and aunt and never imagined she will be in such a situation.

She and her mother had just arrived from London and were accompanied by her aunt, Sr. Virginia Chalon of the Sisters of St. Paul congregation.

He mother belongs to the Chalon family of Banga in South Cotabato.

The Cebu Pacific plane took off again at 3:45 p.m.

It was originally scheduled to land at the General Santos City airport at 2:15 p.m.

The flight was fully booked, with passengers worried over Rosqueta’s fate but nevertheless expressed relief after she was brought to the hospital. They never minded the delay in their flight. (Edwin G. Espejo / MindaNews)