29 April 2005

They Died With Their Boots On

I think that if one is to leave this world for whatever reason, it is always honorable to leave it while doing what you do best. Yesterday morning, five PHIVOLCS workers and three air force personnel died while doing their work.

Of the five, the most notable was Dr. Raymundo S. Punongbayan, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) from 1983 to 2002. The other PHIVOLCS and PAF staff who died were:It is always such a waste of life and talent when we lose people like these.

How did they die?

The Philippine Air Force Huey UH-1H chopper with tail number Stringer 324 crashed into Mt. Namat in Barangay Ligaya, Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija, instantly killing all those on board --- Punongbayan, four scientists and staff of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, which he headed until 2003, two PAF pilots and two soldiers.

The Huey stopped to refuel at Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija, and took off for Dingalan at around 8:41 a.m. The crash was reported to the PAF at 10:14 a.m.


I remember Dr. Raymundo S. Punongbayan for his efforts in educating, informing and keeping thousands of Filipinos safe from the harm brought about by the July 16, 1990 Luzon earthquake and the equally devastating 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruptions. He was the one who put the words "lahar" and "ashfall" in the vocabulary of most concerned Filipinos. He was also credited for transforming PHIVOLCS from a gloomy and indistinct government department to a world-class institution and authority on volcanological and seismological phenomena.

I like him best for his untiring perseverance to educate people about the relevance of his work, and how he brought foresight into good use.

For his efforts, he was awarded the Sergei Soloviev Medal in 2003, and was the first Asian and Filipino to be accorded that honor by the European Geophysical Society based in Munich, Germany.

What makes his scientific papers interesting and worth reading is that he mixed passion with the technical terms. He was the first scientist I've encountered who does this. Here is a sample paper authored by him which I urge you to read. I've never seen such a passionately-written abstract and conclusion.

What was he and the others doing flying in Nueva Ecija?

Phivolcs Director Renato Solidum said Punongbayan and his team were on their way to Dingalan to check the condition of relocation sites, which were provided by the government to the victims of the landslide in Quezon last year.


What do you think was responsible for these senseless deaths?

These flying coffins, what else?

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