Today's Punto
Today's Punto
Feature Article
President Ramon Magsaysay dies in a plane crash in Cebu

Mar 16, 2017

ON MARCH 17, 1957, President Ramon F. Magsaysay, the so-called champion of the Filipino masses, died at the age of 49 in a plane crash in Cebu.

Born on August 31, 1907 in Iba, Zambales, Magsaysay was elected as the country’s seventh President in November 1953 and began his fouryear term on December 30 of the same year.

He had won the affection of the Filipino people because of his selflessness and dedicated leadership, even opening the gates of Malacanang to the common people.

He was heading back to Manila after a speaking engagement at three educational institutions in Cebu on March 16, 1957 when the presidential plane “Mt. Pinatubo” crashed on Mt. Manunggal.

Manunggal is a mountain range curving like an arm just north of Cebu City. Ten minutes after it left Cebu, the Mount Pinatubo confronted Mount Manúnggal and was flying toward the central plateau of the range. The plane had lost altitude – from “metal fatigue”, according to investigation – but could have cleared the mountain and flown safely beyond it but for a giant tree standing on the summit.

As plane and tree collided, the passengers inside were hurled against or out of their seats and the tree sliced off one of the plane’s wings. This wing was found near the foot of the tree. The crippled plane itself dropped much further down, about a hundred feet down the slope, which explains survivor Nestor Mata’s sensation of “hurtling down a black bottomless pit”. When the plane hit the ground, it exploded and burst into flames.

The fire – so intense it melted metal and fused bodies into an almost solid lump of coal– raged most fiercely nearest the fuselage but spared the tail and cockpit. The passengers seated nearest the fuselage – there were apparently seven of them, including the President– were burned beyond recognition, were turned into a single mass of charred flesh. The President was identified only by a wristwatch and ring embedded in the black mass.

The only survivor, reporter Nestor Mata of the Herald, may owe his luck to the fact that he was thrown out of the plane at the very instant it hit the ground. He had been dozing, was jolted awake by a fl ash – “like thousands of fl ashbulbs popping at one time” – felt himself flying, and heard the deafening boom of an explosion. He blacked out. When he came to, he found himself lying under tall trees, among twisted bits of metal.

Magsaysay’s vice president, Carlos P. García, who was on an official visit to Australia at the time of the tragedy, assumed the presidency to serve out the last eight months of Magsaysay’s term.

An estimated two million people attended Magsaysay’s burial on March 22, 1957 at the Manila North Cemetery.

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