MARIE Ireton, a supervisor at the library of the United States Information Service (USIS), recalled her experience with the other passengers. “We were frightened. We stayed in our seats and exchanged comments. After 15 minutes, I noticed that the plane turned left, and then it took a northerly course. I knew we were going the wrong way.”
When Marie looked out of the window, she saw the nose of Luzon. After two hours of uncertain flight, the passengers caught sight of the China Mainland. Marie said, “I could distinguish it because of the rice paddies and the architecture.” Flying reached up to four hours. Later, the passengers (from the plane’s window) saw the coastline of China. Somewhere in the open space above, two Nationalist (Taiwan) fighter planes saw the PAL DC-3 flying. The pilots contacted their base if it is expecting a plane to enter their area. The answer was negative. That started the chase. At first it was not clear if PAL DC-3 was an intruder or something went wrong with the plane.
It was said that by this time, anti-aircraft fire from shore batteries in Amoy opened up on the plane. It was just like what we see in the movie. But this time, it is not a film. Real bullets are aimed at a real plane with passengers inside. Gaston, being a former Philippine Air Force Pilot was able to maneuver by moving the plane away from the range of fire. The two planes tailing them fired several bursts as a warning.
His training at the Air Force made Gaston an expert in dealing with a situation like this. Like James Bond in “Quantum of Solace,” he recognized the markings of a patrol plane from Nationalist China. Like a real pro, he wagged his plane’s wings to signal distress. The Chinese pilots signaled him to follow by leading the way. Ang was hesitant to agree what Gaston wanted. He did not want the plane to change course.
There was no choice left for Ang because the bullets began to rip into PAL DC-3. Ang’s move was to borrow a white handkerchief from Gaston and waved it at the Taiwanese pilot. The passengers at the cabin were also doing their best to catch the attention of the Taiwanese pilots. Carlos Baranda, an insurance executive, had removed one of the white seat covers and scribbled “S.O.S. US” using Araceli Barrera’s red lipstick. He then started to wave the seat cover from the window of PAL-DC 3 hoping that the Taiwanese pilot would see it.
Meanwhile, Gaston was focused on flying low. He was flying between school houses and posts trying to spot the nearest runway where he would land. The aircraft used by the Taiwanese pilot was almost the same with the one he used while training at the Philippine Air Force. He was familiar with its speed and capabilities.
Gaston saw a runway and landed the plane with precision. He landed the plane practically nose to nose with another commercial plane. As soon as the plane was parked, Ang hurriedly proceeded to the luggage hatch in the cockpit trying to go out of the plane. Gaston rushed through the cabin door, leaping over the dead body of Diago.
He ran out of the aircraft just to see a swarm of Nationalist (Taiwanese) soldiers with fixed bayonets on their rifles. Like Indiana Jones in his movies, he tried to make all body movements indicating that he is a friend, not an enemy. He waved to the pilot of a commercial plane (a Caucasian) telling him that they have been hijacked.
The other pilot was also shocked of what he saw. He stuck his head out doing nothing. The soldiers tried to close in on Gaston while Ang (like a real villain) mingled with the other passengers walking on the tarmac. There was a man wearing white polo shirt and khaki pants who approached Gaston. He could be an interpreter.
The man, speaking in broken English, questioned Gaston about the circumstances of their arrival. The Taiwanese soldiers thought that Gaston was there as an invader. The landing of PAL DC-3 was misinterpreted because it was not included in the schedule of arrival for that hour. The interpreter explained also to the frightened Gaston that he landed not in Amoy but in Quemoy Island, a Chiang Kai Shek outpost outside of the post of Amoy.
For Capt. Felix Gaston that was his longest day. His ordeal was a morbid psychology of the doomed characters inside PAL DC-3. His day ended in an exotic locale and his experience was not just a game of cricket. (To be continued)