Given a choice, Tinian Junior and Senior High School teacher Liz Hofschneider would rather not fly by plane this coming Monday to attend a CNMI-wide event the Public School System has set for that day on Saipan.
Hofschneider is not alone as 30 or so teachers from the island have the same misgivings boarding a flight from Tinian to Saipan to attend a twice-a-year professional development event on Tuesday, Oct. 15.
This comes after Sunday morning’s crash of a Star Marianas plane in the island’s interior, which killed three people, including its pilot, Luis Silva.
Hofschneider said she is genuinely worried about taking the 10- to 15-minute flight to Saipan and would gladly forego the one-day conference if not for her fear of being labeled AWOL (absence without leave).
Telesource accountant Paul Madriaga acknowledged that a lot of Tinian residents are now scared of flying in general and not only boarding a Star Marianas flight.
“The truth is, it scares people to travel from Tinian to Saipan and a number of them have already thought about postponing their trips for a while. Honestly, it really scares me a lot, too.”
What tides him over whenever he flies is prayer and the thought that if it’s your time, then it’s your time.
“What I usually do whenever I travel is say a short prayer each time I fly. So I am encouraging everyone to do the same and turn your fear to prayer. Prayer won’t hurt; rather it will save you. If you will ask me again if I will still ride that plane, yes I will.”
Community Guidance Center Tinian coordinator Keith Nabors, for his part, will continue to fly to and from Saipan and will patronize Star Marianas because the interisland carrier has “been good to the island community.”
Nabors, who is flying back to Saipan today because of work, said Star Marianas has been a big help on Tinian, sponsoring many events including sports programs and the likes.
He feels very sad, though, because the pilot of the ill-fated plane was a neighbor and a very close friend.
Tinian Health Clinic nurse supervisor Rodney Cabarles urged everyone not to immediately judge Star Marianas, pending the results of the National Transportation and Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration investigation.
He pointed out that all modes of transportation inherently have their own risks. Despite last Sunday’s tragic crash, he said that flying still has a safer track record than cars and boats.
Consul Maria Paz G. Cortez, of the Philippine Consulate General in Guam, said the tragedy worries her staff who are set to fly to Rota at the end of the week to conduct consular mobile services there.
She said she is crossing her fingers that they would be riding a bigger and safer aircraft.
Many of those interviewed yesterday said they wouldn’t mind taking the longer trip to Saipan via a ferry.
Hofschneider said she wouldn’t have second thoughts about taking a ferry to the PSS event this Monday if only that alternative is still available.
Tinian Shipping and Transportation Inc. suspended its ferry service between Saipan and Tinian in March 2010. The decision was initially announced as temporary as the ferry needed repairs. More than three years since, no commercial ferry has plied the route.
“People actually finds it safer to travel by boat and I believe this is the alternative transportation that people of Tinian are waiting for. It’s been three years since they stopped the ferry operation,” said Madriaga.
He said the crash was not only heartbreaking but will also make a dent on the island’s burgeoning tourism industry.
“It is somehow will have a negative impact and it’s another blow to the tourism industry in the island of Tinian. I just hope that it is short-lived.”
For Cabarles, flying by air is still safer than traveling by boat. He said that, unlike commuter planes on Tinian that only have six passengers, a ferry that sinks has the potential of up to 150 casualties.
It is his hope that after the NTSB and FAA investigation, Star Marianas, other airlines, and local and federal regulatory agencies would learn from the tragedy and improve interisland transportation in the Commonwealth.