Tinian Plane Crash Does Not Appear To Be Deliberate: FBI

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3 year-old survivor may be released, adults still under hospital care

By Andrew O. De Guzman, Alexie Villegas Zotomayor and Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 8, 2013) – The Star Marianas aircraft crash on Tinian, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, that killed three persons including the pilot and injured four other passengers on Sunday does not appear to have been a deliberate act, according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

"Jurisdictionally, the FBI’s only real role is to determine if the crash happened due to a deliberate act.

"At this point, there is no indication that this is the case," FBI Honolulu spokesman Special Agent Tom Simon told the Variety.

Simon said "any statements regarding the cause of the crash need to come from the [National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)] or the [Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)]."

He added, "The FBI’s role at this point is to preserve the evidence at the impact scene along with the Coast Guard and CNMI authorities while we await the arrival of crash investigators from the NTSB and the FAA."

He said "statements regarding the passengers will come from the CNMI. Beyond that, the FBI would just be serving as evidence response and collection consultants to the NTSB and FAA."

According to Xinhua, China’s news agency, the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles will be sending a working group to Saipan.

Xinhua said the six passengers were from China’ s Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

Transportation board

Even with a furlough in effect due to the federal shutdown, the National Transportation Safety Board will look into the plane crash.

According to NTSB, "Due to the lapse in funding, NTSB staff are currently furloughed. The agency can engage in those activities necessary to address imminent threats to the safety of human life or for the protection of property. After careful consideration it was determined that this accident did meet the criteria for excepting an employee from furlough."

The NTSB is an independent federal government investigative arm responsible for civil transportation accident investigation.

Variety learned that an NTSB air safety investigator "has been excepted from furlough status for the purpose of gathering critical safety information."

According to NTSB, it was notified on Oct. 5 about a missing U.S. registered Piper PA32-300 operated by Star Marinas Air at 1:30, Pacific Daylight Time.

NTSB said the aircraft had departed Tinian with seven on board and was en route to Saipan when it went missing.

On Tinian, the unified responding team of federal and local authorities processed the crash site on Sunday on Mt. Laso, a five-minute drive from 8th Avenue or east of the International Broadcasting Bureau.

Among the fatalities were the pilot, Luis Silva, and two tourists.

Sources said the bodies were removed from the crash site on Sunday and were transported by a Department of Public Safety boat to Saipan where they were brought to the Commonwealth Health Center at around 6 p.m.

Variety learned that the bodies were intact and the fatalities were still recognizable.

In a separate interview with Variety yesterday, Commonwealth Ports Authority Executive Director Maryann Lizama said she could not comment on the incident.

"We are waiting for NTSB to do their work," she said.

Child out of hospital soon

The three-year-old child who survived the plane crash is now "in fair condition," according to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. (CHC).

CHC Chief Executive Officer Esther L. Muna said yesterday that the child "may be discharged soon."

But the three adults, she added, are still under close observation.

Variety gathered from other sources that one of the female survivors who needed emergency surgery is the child’s mother.

It was also learned that the other fatality, a male, was seated next to Star Marianas pilot, Luis Silva.

The survivors’ families and friends, all from China, are being assisted by CHC staffers and volunteers from American Red Cross-NMI chapter at the hospital.

In separate email, Press Secretary Angel A. Demapan said the Federal Aviation Administration will be the main point of contact for details regarding the investigation and the condition of the survivors.

Freedom Air

Rep. Trenton B. Conner, IR-Tinian, said due to the accident, many Star Marianas commuters are now patronizing Freedom Air which filed for bankruptcy last week.

Conner said Freedom Air has a good aviation track record but has fewer flights.

Rep. Tony P. Sablan, IR-Saipan, said the government can help Freedom Air now by reducing terminal and other airport fees.

Sablan said he believes Freedom Air should not have come to the point that it has to file for bankruptcy.

"Let us think of what we can do to help, maybe fees could be reduced. Those are the things that can be extended to Freedom Air," he added.

Bad for Tinian

Flying to Tinian has become "scary" and lawmakers are worried because it will impact the island’s economy.

In separate interviews, Conner and Sen. Frank M. Borja said Tinian may lose tourists.

The Tinian economy, they added, is largely dependent on its struggling casino industry which relies on visiting gamblers and tourists.

On Nov. 19, 2012, a similar Star Marianas plane crashed on Saipan, claiming the life of a female tourist.

Borja, R-Tinian, expressed confidence in the investigation being conducted by federal authorities, adding that the result should lead to corrective measures.

One of the things the federal authorities should look into is a pilot’s required number of flying hours, the senator said.

The accident, he added, "is unfortunate, but hopefully this won’t do much to effect on the economy on Tinian — we are dependent on tourists."

He added, "We need a ferry. It is safer. CNMI leaders will have to push for the ferry and bigger airlines to directly land on Tinian so that we can avoid these multiple flights."

For his part, Conner said he was concerned about the loss of confidence among tourists.

He agreed with Borja that the ferry and direct flights to Tinian "should be something to look forward to and work toward to reduce flights."

Rep. Tony P. Sablan said federal authorities should also look into the airline’s maintenance program.

"It is very important to restore the trust of the public in flying to Tinian," he added.

Sablan supports the idea of a ferry but not one run by the government.

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