Fact or Fiction

MINDANAO DAILY MIRROR · 2000 JUNE 30 

On Monday the lawyer for relatives of the victims of the crash of Air Philippines Flight 541 came out with a bombshell: the ill-fated plane, he claimed, had been bought by AirPhil from a junkyard and was thus unfit to fly. Not only that, the plane had been involved in a previous accident, proving that it was unworthy of being part of a fleet of commercial planes. When I saw the story my first reaction was, "AirPhil is fried."

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But then we in the office decided to check out this "junkyard." Lawyer Manuel Ribbeck, who said he is from the Nolan Law Group based in Chicago, Illinois, identified the "junkyard" as the Marana Air Park. We searched for "Marana Air Park" in the Internet but the search engines couldn't come up with any website or even a reference to it; the closest thing to such a facility was the Evergreen Air Center, Inc. with address at Pinal Air Park Road, Marana, Arizona.

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Hmmm, we thought. Surely Ribbeck would have given the exact name of the junkyard - unless something was amiss in his statements (notice that he had also said, in describing the previous accident, that the plane had almost - but not quite - collided with another plane). At any rate, we continued with our check on Evergreen, and what the company says about itself is revealing. In the first place, it is, among other services, a recycling center for aircraft parts: "At some point during an aircraft's life," Evergreen says in its website, "it becomes more advantageous to recycle the airframe and its collective parts. The sum of the aircraft's parts is worth more than the whole as a revenue producer."

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But in describing the way it goes about the recycling, Evergreen says the process is not haphazard - quite unlike the way we picture recycling to be: "Evergreen Air Center has an extensive facility and an experienced cadre of technicians to perform teardown of all types and models of commercial aircraft. The parting out process includes removal of an orderly, predetermined sequence of parts, components and systems. Care is taken during the removal to ensure integrity of the parts. After each part is tagged for identification (manufacturer's part number, serial number, aircraft registration number, aircraft serial number, and an A & P's signature) and listed on a master inventory, it is carefully packed and crated for shipping."

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In response to Ribbeck, in fact, AirPhil admitted the plane was 20 years old when the airline bought it - a fact that it had already made public in the aftermath of the crash in April. But it was in no way bought from a junkyard: Marana, it said, is "one of the few parking areas used by airline companies and aircraft manufacturers worldwide to park aircraft and store aircraft parts because of its ideal geographical location and weather condition." In light of the above information, this is entirely believable.

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The unfortunate thing about this exchange between AirPhil and Ribbeck is that it is not being made in the proper forum. If we recall, the victims' relatives, led by Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, had themselves insisted that President Joseph Estrada create a special body to investigate the crash. Now that they have gotten their wish, it is best for them to forward their findings to that body and not directly to the public through the media. As it is they are doing themselves a disservice and are making it difficult to sort out fact from fiction. They should trust the investigating body that they themselves had insisted on being created.

©2000 Jon Joaquin. All rights reserved.