PAL plane crashes, lives lost

To mark the 40th Anniversary of the Samoa Observer, a series of selected articles printed over the last 40 years will be re-published in the next two weeks, to show our readers the issues covered by this newspaper over the years and the personalities that made the headlines. 

First Published: 08 January 1997

A number of passengers on board a Polynesian Airlines “Twin otter” flight from Pago Pago, American Samoa, are dead after their plane went down on Upolu island yesterday morning.

PAL officials said, yesterday that the cause of the “accident” was not known and that local authorities were currently looking for the reason for the crash.

“Whilst is too early to determine the cause, the operating crew were experienced pilots with knowledge of local conditions,” said officials in a press statement.

Eyewitnesses at the crash site reported seeing survivors being brought down from the site of the tragedy.

Witnesses also reported seeing several bodies being removed from the wreckage.

“There were three passengers on board the aircraft and two flight crew members,” according to airline officials.

The same officials had previously feared that there had not been any survivors but later confirmed that two people had survived the crash.

Those two were, 32 years-old PAL First Officer, Tautai Tofaeono and 5 years-old female passenger, V. Laupola.

Both survivors are currently being treated at the intensive care unit at the National Hospital. It is understood Tofaeono shall be taken to New Zealand for a medical operation.

Those that have been confirmed killed included the aircraft’s Operating Captain Colin Sydney “Gus” Pyber and two passengers, P. Laupola (a male from American Samoa) and T. Nickel (a female from Western Samoa. The next of kin of all involved in the accident have been informed by the Company and the Western Samoa Police Department,” said PAL officials.

“The Board management and Staff of Polynesian Airlines express their deep regret and condolences to the families of those passengers and staff who lost their lives in this tragic accident.”

The PAL flight, PH211, was expected to arrive late yesterday morning when it went down on the western side of Mt Vaea close to Moamoa village, approximately 6 kilometers south of the Apia Township. The plane wreckage is located several metres up the hillside near Chanel College at the village. 

The several damaged-wingless fuselages of the Twin Otter aircraft is reported to be lying on that hillside with crash debris scattered around the same vicinity. It is not known how much. If any, of yesterday’s bad weather and poor viability contributed to the tragedy. 

Meteorological Office at Mulinuu reported yesterday the existence of “a low pressure over the country which saw a large portion of rain and gusty winds affecting the country. 

A meteorological officer also noted that weather pattern had developed over the Samoa Islands early yesterday morning. 

That office eventually issued a “warning” for small crafts and boats because of the weather. 

The bad weather reportedly also caused air traffic authorities to divert this same PAL Flight PH211 from Fagalii Airport to Faleolo International Airport. 

A Pago Pago to Apia flight by another air carrier, Samoa Air, was also diverted Faleolo at approximately the same time. According to Samoa Air’s General Manager, William Meredith, yesterday the ill-fated PAL flight was 10 minutes behind the S.A aircraft when they were making their way to Faleolo Airport. 

But is is now known why, the PAL flight didn’t land at Faleolo Airport as the S.A flight did. 

A reliable source told Samoa Observer that the PAL plane overflew Faleolo because its pilot wanted to return and test the weather back at Fagalii Airport and land there if possible. 

That question and others will hopefully be answer in the next few days as authority’s comb the wreckage. 

The recent accident also seems to be culmination of a rash of “bad luck” that the national carrier has been experiencing with its aircrafts. 

Late last year, the airlines single Boeing 737 skidded off the runway at Faleolo – no one was reportedly injured in that accident. 

Damages to the plane, however, left the airline without an aircraft for its international flights for several days. 

The last fatal crash in Western Samoa was that of another twin engine aircraft which belonged to the since defunct, American Samoa based, South Pacific Island Airways or SPIA, in the late seventies – all on board that flight were also lost. 

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