By FERDIE DE LA TORRE and MARK RABAGO
An autopsy will be conducted today, Wednesday, on the pilot and two passengers of the ill-fated Star Marianas Piper Cherokee Six aircraft.
Chief prosecutor Shelli Neal confirmed with the Saipan Tribune yesterday that Guam chief medical examiner Dr. Aurelio Espinola will perform the autopsy at the Commonwealth Health Center.
The bodies of the three fatalities are at CHC’s morgue.
As of yesterday, authorities have yet to release the identities of the deceased as well as the four survivors.
Sources, however, identified the pilot as Luis Silva, a native of Mexico. CHC officials described the two other fatalities as Chinese tourists—a 26-year-old male and a 29-year-old female.
CNMI authorities, including the Office of the Attorney General, have been assisting the Federal Bureau of Investigation in securing evidence at the crash site while awaiting the arrival of crash investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.
One of the survivors, the 3-year-old girl, was released from the hospital yesterday. The three others —two females and one male—remain in critical but stable condition.
A tour company executive told a Chinese online news website that aircraft generally used for interisland travel in the CNMI have “poor safety features.”
Shanghai China CYTS Outbound Travel Service deputy general manager Liu Xin told China Daily Web (http://www.ecns.cn/2013/10-08/83277.shtml) that certain travel agencies in China arrange a combined travel package to Saipan and Tinian to attract more tourists.
“But we have never arranged this type of trip, as the plane flying between the islands is quite small, with poor safety features,” Liu was quoted by China Daily Web as saying.
Shanghai China CYTS Outbound Travel Service, Liu said, only offers individual trips to Tinian and Saipan instead of one package.
Liu said that all services, including hotel reservations and overseas flights, are arranged by travel agencies abroad, and Chinese travel agencies cannot make any changes to the schedule.
Press secretary Angel Demapan said it is still premature to point fingers on what really caused the tragic accident Sunday morning. He urged everyone to wait for the investigation of the Federal Aviation Administration before passing any hasty judgment.
“The administration, along with all local and federal stakeholders, continue to exert every effort to ensure that this matter is thoroughly investigated. At this time, the FAA has taken over the investigation of this very unfortunate incident. Still, it is premature to categorically state that interisland travel is unsafe. While all are eager for this investigation to be completed, it should not be a cause to overlook the many other successful flights that have been flown interisland over the past several years,” Demapan said.
The ill-fated Star Marianas Piper Cherokee Six aircraft left the West Tinian Airport at 2:41am last Sunday but never reached its destination at the Saipan International Airport.
At 10:32am the same day, its wreckage was found in the middle of Tinian in jungle terrain inaccessible by land. Of the seven on board, four survived and are now being treated at the Commonwealth Health Center on Saipan.
China Daily Web also reported that the Star Marianas plane crash was the second plane crash to claim the lives of Chinese tourists during the weeklong National Day holiday.
Last Thursday, Oct. 3, a Chinese tourist and a pilot were confirmed dead after an ultra-light plane crashed in Pokhara, Nepal.
Police in Nepal said the two-seater aircraft, belonging to Avia Club Pokhara, crashed near Shanti Stupa, a well-known tourist attraction in the city, at 9:30am, according to the China Daily Web.