PAL pilot in 1952 hijack drama passes away

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Friday, June 6, 2014


CAPTAIN Felix Corteza Gaston, the pilot in the first hijacking drama in the history of world aviation, passed away on Wednesday, June 4.

He was 91.

Captain Gaston was the son of former Negros Occidental Governor Emilio Gaston and Amparo Corteza-Gaston of Silay City.

Sixty-two years ago on December 30, 1952, then 28-year-old Capt. Gaston, an intrepid commercial pilot, figured in a five-hour, hair-raising airline hijack that left his fellow pilot dead by gunfire in what is now described as the first of its kind in Asia, if not in the world.

Gaston had then been in the service of Philippine Airlines (PAL) for just three months after a stint at the Philippine Air Force, when the hijack took place.

In the incident, the hijacker killed Gaston’s fellow pilot, Capt. Pedro Perlas, and the plane’s purser, Esteban Diago, and Gaston himself was shot by Nationalist Chinese soldiers who mistook him for being a part of a communist invasion of their territory when his plane landed on Quemoy Island.

The hijacker, a 23-year-old Chinese national Ang Cho Kio, entered the cockpit when the aircraft was airborne after a take-off from Laoag. He pointed a caliber .45 pistol at Gaston and shoved a piece of paper to the pilots with the words "I want to go to Amoy."

That note was shown to Perlas, who maneuvered the plane to gain altitude and speed in a bid to foil the plans of the hijacker, who was discovered to be fleeing after killing his girlfriend and a policeman.

Gaston took control of the plane. Diago knocked on the door while Perlas tried to stand, but two shots rang out, directly hitting Perlas, and two more shots hit the purser.

Ang showed Gaston a map indicating where to land, and thrust a wad of dollar bills in his hand.

Meanwhile, Gaston sighted a plane bearing the Nationalist Chinese emblem cruising beside his, "probably to intervene." He signaled with his wings that "I am friendly and I want to land."

In a while, Gaston became aware that he was almost just a minute away from landing on Amoy (now known as Xiamen) and remembered that he was still carrying his PAF ID so he could be mistaken by the communists to be on an unfriendly mission. Thus, he flew higher right away to look for the cruising National Chinese aircraft.

Luckily, it hove into sight and guided him to a safe landing on Quemoy Island.

Upon alighting, he saw "thousands of soldiers" advance toward him menacingly with fixed bayonets and some thrust at his breast. Shots were also fired, fortunately missing him by a hairline.

Gaston and Ang stayed overnight in a nearby farmhouse for interrogation. The following day, PAL sent a plane to take him home. Authorities detained Ang to answer for the murder of Perlas and Diago as well as for killing his girlfriend and a policeman.

In an interview with a national newspaper several years back, Gaston said the hijack ("It was termed skyjack at that time") was the first involving a scheduled flight in the Philippines, if not in Asia or in the world.

The Philippine government, then headed by President Elpidio Quirino, awarded him the Legion of Honor, officer class, with then Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay doing the honors. PAL gave him an expensive and elegant Tissot watch which, Gaston quipped, could probably have been bought with the dollars from the hijacker that he had surrendered to the airline.

Captain Gaston was born on Oct. 17, 1923 in Hacienda Buen Retiro in Silay. He was the youngest of 16 siblings.

He was married to Dolores Rastrollo of Manila. They have five children. He finished elementary at the Silay North Elementary School, and high school at the Ateneo de Manila. He entered Ateneo de Manila Law School after the War (WWII) but not able to finish.

Gaston enlisted at the Philippine Air Force to become a pilot. He transferred to PAL later.

He became president of the PAL Pilots Association in 1968. He led a strike against airline owner Benigno Toda but lost the case. He was fired along with other pilots who joined the strike. He was 45 years old then. That ended his career as a pilot. (With reports from Ver Pacete)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on June 06, 2014.

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