‘Genuine’ and ‘valiant’ soldier: Journalist honors friend who died in C-130 crash she’s reporting

July 8, 2021 - 7:15 PM
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Al Jazeera reporter and Michael Benolerao
Al Jazeera English correspondent Jamela Alindogan and Air Force Major Michael Benolerao and Benolerao piloting an aircraft in these photos shared by Alindogan on Facebook on July 7, 2021. (Photos from Facebook/Jamela Aisha Alindogan)

One of those who passed away in the crash of the Philippine Air Force transport plane on Sunday was remembered as a “genuine” and “valiant” soldier who was always ready to serve.

Al Jazeera English correspondent Jamela Alindogan on Wednesday shared that she was “overwhelmed by sorrow” when she found out that her friend, Air Force pilot Major Michael Benolerao, was among the casualties of the military air disaster.

The veteran journalist revealed that she has been reporting about the crash for days now and trying her best “to hold it together” despite the impact of the news on her as an individual.

“Mike and I are both COVID survivors. I caught it in the field first. He caught it while serving as a frontline pandemic pilot,” Alindogan shared.

“As soon as he got better, he called me to ask how he could donate plasma. That’s how Mike was. A genuine, valiant, elegant soldier. Always ready to serve. Tuwing magkikita kami sa tarmac, mabilisan. ‘Hello Jam, saan ka na naman pupunta?’ Sagot ko, ‘Ikaw, saan ka na naman pupunta?'” she added.

“We were supposed to have coffee in Cebu pero hindi ako umabot (maglalaba pa daw din siya). He was supposed to go to Canada already to get married. He was so excited about it! He was still so young (magka-age kami) and so full of promise. He lived, served and died a hero,” Alindogan further said.

 

Other friends and classmates of Benolerao also remembered him as a “patriotic” pilot who was thoughtful to people.

“Mike was a great leader and an inspiration to everyone at MSU-IIT Integrated Developmental School Batch 2000. We will celebrate his legacy every day,” Beatriz Arcinas Caṅedo, Benolerao’s former classmate, was quoted as saying in a report.

Benolerao, 38, was a native of Iligan City who graduated from the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) Integrated Developmental School in 2000.

One of the soldier’s elementary classmates from St. Michael’s College in Iligan also recalled how passionate he was in serving the country, noting that he chose to work in the Air Force over a commercial airline.

“He would consistently answer, ‘I love serving my country and I’m enjoying what I do.’ When we were in elementary, he always wanted to be an air force pilot and he did become one and remained one until the end,” Gemma Banaynal, a Philippine Airlines flight attendant, shared.

Benolerao was among the casualties of the C-130 crash described as the country’s worst military air disaster in nearly 30 years.

READ: Philippines order probe after worst military accident in 3 decades

The Lockheed C-130 transport aircraft carried privates first class who were meant to augment government forces going after the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

A private first class is an early-career rank for enlisted personnel.

Media outlets reported that the aircraft was supposed to land at Jolo airport in Sulu on Sunday but had overshot the runway without touching down. It failed to regain enough power and height and had crashed at Patikul, a neighboring town.

As of Tuesday, the number of casualties has risen to 53.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Cirilito Sobejana said the black box or the flight data recorder of the aircraft will be sent to the United States to aid in the investigation of the crash. It contains information such as the pilots’ final exchanges and crucial flight data.

READ: Philippines seeks U.S. help on data recorders for plane crash probe

The C-130 was acquired from the United States and delivered to the Philippines last January. Its first flight was recorded in 1988.

C-130 planes have been workhorses of the Philippine Air Force for decades. The aircraft has been used to transport troops and supplies, and to deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.