Our hero is coming home

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


SILAY in the past had produced prominent men and women who dedicated themselves to valor, heroism, arts, agriculture, banking, and public service. Heroism can possibly happen in unexpected time and place. One becomes a hero because of his brave heart, peculiar wit, smart decision, or that could be his only choice at a precise moment (quick response to stimulus).

That was Rizal Day, December 30, 1952. Capt. Felix Corteza Gaston, an airline pilot and a Silaynon, became a hero. He was there when the first hijacking of a commercial airline in the history of world aviation happened. It did happen in the Philippines like a blockbuster movie having the ingredients of “Airforce One” and “Undersiege.”

Just like in the movie, there was the eponymous foe, a cocktail of action, eerie feeling, confrontations that convey the sense of dread, and gripping suspense. My friend, Alan Gaston, narrated to me the episode that took place in the life of 29-year-old Capt. Felix Gaston. What I write here is also supplemented by the articles from Time Magazine (1953) and The Nation (Inquirer News Service, 2002).

It was a sunny morning when PAL DC-3 took off from Laoag, Ilocos Norte for a short hop to Aparri. The flight was under Capt. Pedro Perlas and his co-pilot was Capt. Felix Gaston. The plane got seven passengers only and the flight attendant on board was Eduardo Diago, a young, good-looking mestizo.

Of the seven passengers, two were Americans – Marie Ireton and Marshall Nunn, supervisors at the library of the United States Information Service (USIS); two Filipinos – Carlos Baranda, an insurance executive; and Araceli Barrera, a high school teacher from Ilocos Sur; two Filipino Chinese – Ho Te, a general manager of an insurance firm and his son, Francis (17), a high school student from San Beda.

The most interesting man on the passengers’ manifest was a Chinese national (number 7 in the list) in a leopard skin coat. He listed his name as Lucio Lee. It was found out later that his real name is Ang Tiu Chok. His fellow passengers did not know that he was a fugitive from justice. Earlier that month, he shot a 16-year-old female Chinese in Manila (alleged to be his girlfriend). He was wanted by authorities.

Alan Gaston (the narrator) told me that prior to the flight, Capt. Felix Gaston had requested for additional fuel in preparation for uncertain weather conditions. Capt. Gaston and Capt. Perlas made an agreement. Perlas will fly the plane up and Gaston will fly it down. Prior to his employment at PAL, Gaston was a reserve officer of the Philippine Air Force.

Gaston was having a temporary tour of duty with PAL. It was just his second month with the company. For him, it was an exciting day because there was eagerness in his heart that after this flight he could go home to Manila and be with his pregnant wife who was expecting their first child anytime.

Few minutes after the DC-3 took off, Ang stood up and slipped into the pilot’s cockpit. (It was not yet very strict during that time). The two pilots thought that the passenger would just like to have a view of the area to learn how the pilots do their job. Perlas and Gaston were shocked because Ang was pointing at them the barrel of a .45 Colt.

There was seriousness in the face of Ang. He showed a note to Gaston, “Do not be alarmed. I am a desperate man. This is a stickup.” Gaston presented the note to Perlas. They tried to keep their cool under pressure. Ang barked an order that the plane should set a course for Amoy, some 500 miles from where they are.

What followed was a brutality into a seductive dance of death to whoever would be unlucky. There was overdose of heavy melodrama. Those who were there at that moment made a quick introspection on their flamed human souls in search of redemption. The next move would be based on Ang’s bizarre master plan.

To be continued.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on June 17, 2014.

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