Philippine Airlines Flight 434
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Aftermath of the bombing, photographed by the United States Diplomatic Security Service.
|Date||December 11, 1994|
|Summary||Terrorist bomb detonation leading to loss of flight controls|
|Site||Minami Daito Island, Okinawa, Japan
|Aircraft type||Boeing 747-283B|
|Flight origin||Ninoy Aquino Int'l Airport|
|Stopover||Mactan–Cebu Int'l Airport|
|Destination||Narita International Airport|
Philippine Airlines Flight 434 (PAL434, PR434) was a flight on December 11, 1994 from Cebu to Tokyo on a Boeing 747-283B that was seriously damaged by a bomb planted by terrorist Ramzi Yousef, killing one passenger and damaging vital control systems. The bombing was a part of the unsuccessful Bojinka terrorist attacks. The Boeing 747 (tail number EI-BWF) was flying the second leg of a route from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (formerly Manila International Airport), Pasay City in the Philippines, to Narita International Airport, in Tokyo, Japan, with a stop at Mactan–Cebu International Airport, Cebu, in the Philippines. After the bomb detonated, 57-year-old veteran pilot Captain Eduardo "Ed" Reyes was able to land the aircraft, saving the aircraft and the remaining passengers and crew.
Authorities later discovered that Ramzi Yousef, a passenger on the aircraft's prior flight leg, had placed the explosive. Yousef boarded the flight under the fake Italian name "Armaldo Forlani", an incorrect spelling of the name of the Italian legislator Arnaldo Forlani. Yousef was later convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The aircraft operating Flight 434 was a 15-year-old Boeing 747-283B, registration EI-BWF, serial number 21575. It made its first flight on February 17, 1979, and was delivered to Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) on March 2, 1979, then to Philippine Airlines on April 1, 1992, after flying with Nigeria Airways, Lionair (Luxembourg), and Aerolineas Argentinas, from June 3, 1983, to April 1, 1992.
Setting the bomb
Yousef boarded the aircraft for the Manila to Cebu leg of the flight. The plane departed from Manila at 5:35 a.m. After the plane was airborne, he went into the lavatory with his dopp kit in hand and took off his shoes to get out the batteries, wiring, and spark source hidden in the heel (below a level where metal detectors in use at the time could detect anything). Yousef removed a modified Casio digital watch from his wrist to be used as a timer, unpacked the remaining materials from his dopp kit, and assembled his bomb. He set the timer for four hours later, which was approximately the time at which the plane would be far out over the ocean en route to Tokyo, put the entire bomb back into his dopp kit, and returned to his current seat.
After asking a flight attendant for permission to move to seat 26K, saying he could get a better view from that seat, Yousef moved to that seat and tucked the assembled bomb into the life vest pocket under that seat. He exited the aircraft in Cebu. Philippine domestic Flight Attendant Maria De La Cruz noticed that Yousef had switched seats during the course of the Manila to Cebu flight and got off the plane in Cebu with the domestic cabin crew, but did not pass the information along to the international flight crew that boarded at Cebu for the trip to Tokyo. 25 other passengers also got off the plane at Cebu, where 256 more passengers and a new cabin crew boarded the plane for the final leg of the flight to Tokyo.
Flight 434 landed in Cebu at 6:50 a.m., after a flight time of 1 hour 15 minutes. At 8:38 a.m., after a 38-minute delay, due to airport congestion, the plane took off with a total of 273 passengers on board, among them, 24-year-old Haruki Ikegami (池上春樹 Ikegami Haruki), a Japanese industrial sewing machine maker returning from a business trip to Cebu, occupying seat 26K. At 11:43 a.m., 4 hours after Yousef planted his bomb, the device exploded underneath Ikegami, killing him and injuring an additional 10 passengers in adjacent seats in front of and behind seat 26K. The blast blew off a two-square-foot (0.2 m²) portion of the cabin floor, and the cabin's rapid expansion from the explosion severed several control cables in the ceiling that controlled the plane's right aileron, as well as cables that connected to both the Captain and First Officer's steering controls.
What kept the disaster from being worse was that this particular 747, formerly operated by Scandinavian Airlines as SE-DFZ "Knut Viking", had a different seating configuration and seat 26K was 2 rows forward of the center fuel tank so that the hole in the floor punched through to the cargo hold  instead, sparing the plane from a fiery explosion.
The bomb's orientation, positioned front-to-back and upward angled from horizontal, caused the blast to expand vertically and lengthwise. This configuration meant that Ikegami's body absorbed most of the blast force and the plane's outer structure was spared. The lower half of his body fell into the cargo hold and ten passengers sitting in the seats in front of and behind Ikegami were also injured; one needed urgent medical care. Additionally, the 38-minute delay in takeoff from Cebu meant the plane was not as far out to sea as anticipated, which contributed to the captain's options available for an emergency landing.
Masaharu Mochizuki, a passenger on the flight, recalled that passengers, both injured and uninjured, initially tried to move away from the blast site, but cabin crew told passengers to remain where they were until an assessment of the situation could be made. Assistant purser and lead economy class flight attendant, Fernando Bayot, moved an injured passenger named Yukihiko Osui away from the bomb site. Bayot then saw Ikegami and tried to pull him out of the hole, but soon realized that most of Ikegami's body below the waist was either damaged or missing entirely. Ikegami died minutes later. Bayot called another flight attendant over to pretend to minister to Ikegami's needs with a blanket and oxygen mask in order to prevent additional panic, then reported the extent of the passenger injuries to the cockpit.
Cabin crew members, who were later commended by President Fidel Ramos for their "professional handling of a potentially disastrous situation" along with the flight deck crew, were Flight Purser Isidro Mangahas, Jr., Flight Stewards Fernando Bayot, Agustin Azurin, Ronnie Macapagal, E. Reyes, R. Santiago, Flight Attendants M. Alvar, Alpha Nicolasin, Cynthia Tengonciang, Andre Palma, Socorro Mendoza, E. Co, L. Garcia, N. dela Cruz, Adora Altarejos, L. Abella and Japanese Interpreter K. Okada.
Immediately after the explosion, the aircraft banked hard to the right, but the autopilot quickly corrected the bank. After the blast, Captain Reyes asked Systems Engineer Dexter Comendador to survey the blast site to check for damage. Reyes placed the Mayday call, requesting landing at Naha Airport, Okinawa Island, Okinawa Prefecture. The Japanese air traffic controller experienced difficulty in trying to understand Reyes' request, so an American air traffic controller from a United States military base on Okinawa took over and processed Reyes' landing. The American air traffic controller directed a USAF Lear jet towards PAL 434 to visually check for damage of the outer fuselage and to verify that the landing gear was in place. The autopilot had stopped responding to Reyes' commands and the aircraft flew past Okinawa.
Reyes said in an interview for the Canadian television series Mayday that when he disengaged the autopilot he feared that the aircraft would bank right again and the crew would lose control of the aircraft; however, because of the pressing need to land quickly to attend to the injured and inspect the plane for additional damage, Reyes instructed Herrera to take hold of his own controls and then Reyes deactivated the autopilot. The aircraft did not bank after the disengagement of the autopilot, but neither would it respond to steering inputs from either controller due to the control cable damage caused by the bomb. The crew struggled to use the ailerons, which could allow the aircraft to roll but were still unable to change the plane's direction. Finally the flight crew, including First Officer Jaime Herrera and Comendador, disengaged the auto-throttles and resorted to steering via throttle control, reminiscent of United Airlines Flight 232.
By using the throttles to steer the plane, reducing air speed to both control the radius of turns and to allow the plane to descend, and dumping fuel to lessen the strain on the landing gear, the Captain landed the damaged 747 at Naha Airport at 12:45 p.m., 1 hour after the bomb exploded. The aircraft's other 272 passengers and 20 crew members survived.
United States prosecutors said the device was a "Mark II" "microbomb" constructed using Casio digital watches as described in Phase I of the Bojinka plot, for which this was a test. On Flight 434, Yousef used one tenth of the explosive power he planned to use on eleven U.S. airliners in January 1995. The bomb was, or at least all of its components were, designed to slip through airport security checks undetected. The explosive used was liquid nitroglycerin, which was disguised as a bottle of contact lens fluid. Other ingredients included glycerin, nitrate, sulfuric acid, and minute concentrations of nitrobenzene, silver azide, and liquid acetone. The wires he used were hidden in the heel of his shoe, below the detectable range of the metal detectors used by airports of the day.
Manila police were able to track the batteries used in the bomb and many of its contents from Okinawa back to Manila. Police uncovered Yousef's plan on the night of January 6 and the early morning of January 7, 1995, and Yousef was arrested a month later in Pakistan.
The aircraft, at the time having the tail number EI-BWF, was later converted to a cargo configuration as Boeing 747-283B(SF). It subsequently changed hands several times, always to air cargo companies, and was finally placed in storage in 2007 at Châteauroux-Centre "Marcel Dassault" Airport.
The crew moved on to separate ways following the incident. Reyes would move to Cebu Pacific and served there until his retirement in 2002. He later died in February 2007 from prostate cancer. Comendador also moved to Cebu Pacific and served as a management pilot in that company then moved to AirAsia Philippines where he served as COO and later appointed as CEO in July 2016.
Philippine Airlines still uses the flight number 434, but it currently operates as a Cebu-Tokyo (Narita) sector which utilizes an Airbus A321 or A330. The airline retired its last 747 aircraft on September 2014. It still operates a Manila-Tokyo (Narita and Haneda) sector separately.
In popular culture
In addition to the news broadcasts, the popular Discovery Channel and National Geographic show Mayday (also known as Air Crash Investigation and Air Emergency; on the Smithsonian Channel it is known as "Air Disasters") aired an episode about Philippine Airlines Flight 434 called "Bomb on Board". Filipino Canadian actor Von Flores portrayed Captain Reyes while Canadian actor/comedian Sam Kalilieh played Ramzi Yousef.
- 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Pan Am plane destroyed by bomb, killing 270 people
- 1995 Bojinka plot, al-Qaeda plot to blow up 12 planes as they flew from Asia to the U.S.
- 2001 failed shoe bomb attempt, failed al-Qaeda PETN bombing of plane
- 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot, failed plot to blow up at least 10 planes as they flew from the U.K. to the U.S. and Canada
- Aircraft flight control system
- Cargo planes bomb plot, failed al-Qaeda PETN bombing of plane
- List of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft
- List of terrorist incidents in 1994
- Northwest Airlines Flight 253, failed al-Qaeda PETN bombing of plane
- Pan Am Flight 830, a similar incident that occurred 12 years earlier
- GovTrack: Senate Record: Tribute To Captain Eduardo Reyes[dead link]
- State's Security Bureau Takes on Expanded Role, Washington Post, September 27, 2004.
- CNN.com, January 8, 1998. 'Proud terrorist' gets life for Trade Center Bombing.
- "Bomb on Board," Mayday season 3, episode 6. First aired 2005.
- Yousef bombs Philippines Airlines Flight 434, GlobalSecurity.Org report on incident
- Simon Reeve (2002). The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama Bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism. UPNE. pp. 79. ISBN 978-1-55553-509-4.
- [Manila Bulletin], December 18, 1994
- Bonner, Raymond; Weiser, Benjamin (August 11, 2006). "Echoes of Early Design to Use Chemicals to Blow Up Airlines". The New York Times Company. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
- Boeing 747 – MSN 21575, airfleets.net