Nestor Mata’s story
by Leon O. Ty
The lone survivor of the Mt. Pinatubo airplane crash in which President Magsaysay and 25 other persons perished gives his version of the tragedy. Newsman has second and third degree burns on thighs, arms and legs
April 6, 1957–PHILIPPINES Herald Reporter Nestor Mata, the lone survivor in the Mt. Pinatubo airplane crash in which President Magsaysay and 25 other persons perished, is still confined in the Veterans Memorial Hospital. He is fast recovering from second and third degree burns all over his body. We visited him last Saturday afternoon. As soon as he saw us, he said in a low voice:
“You are lucky you were not with us.”
Mata said these words because he personally knew that this writer had always been with him and the rest of the Malacañang newspapermen who used to accompany the late President on nearly all his trips to Mindanao and Visayas.
“You are the real lucky one,” we replied.
“Yes,” he said, “but I still do not know what God wants me to do. He spared my life because he wants me to do something. And I don’t know what it is.”
Asked how he got out of the ill-fated plane alive, Mata related the following story:
“The crash occurred between one and two o’clock Sunday morning, March 17…. All I remember was that there was a blinding flash for a moment. Then I fell unconscious.”
We inquired if it was true that he was seated at the tail end of the plane.
“No,” he answered, “I sat in the second seat next to the President’s compartment…. As I was about to board the Mt. Pinatubo at the Cebu airport, Mayor Sergio Osmeña Jr., asked me to spend the rest of the night in the city.”
“Stay behind, little one.”
“No, I’m returning to cover the President,” were Mata’s exact words.
Relating the rest of the story, the Herald Malacañang reporter stated:
“President Magsaysay was standing on the side of the plane when I started to board it. ‘Let’s go!’ said RM and I immediately boarded the aircraft. I was the first to get inside… That was the last time I saw the President smile.
“As soon as I was seated, I fell asleep at once. I did not have the slightest premonition of what was to happen. I had full confidence in our pilot. I felt that if the President was safe in his hands, I, too, was safe. I had no reason to feel otherwise.”
Mata reiterated that after the momentary blinding flash, he fell unconscious.
“At about three o’clock that same morning, I regained consciousness.”
“But how did you know it was three o’clock?” we asked.
“My Longines watch was still running,” he replied with assurance. “There was a very bright moon and when I looked at my watch, it was about three….
“I found myself on the side of a steep cliff among dried bushes…. Agonizing with pain, I was completely at a loss what to do. About three meters away from me were parts of the plane. They were still burning. Meanwhile, I heard the distant howling of a dog. It was only then that I felt hopeful of being rescued. Thinking that there were probably people living not far away from where I lay moaning with pain, I made an effort to shout. I noticed that my voice echoed in the nearby mountains.
“After that, I began shouting, ‘Mr. President! Mr. President! Mr. President!’ When no answer came, I shouted for Pablo Bautista, the reporter of the Liwayway magazine. ‘Pabling! Pabling!’ Still no answer. It began to dawn on me that there was no other survivor except me.”
Mata remembered that it was about eight o’clock in the morning when the rescuers found him.
“After finding me,” he recalled, “the farmers had to return to the village to get a hammock on which they loaded and carried me to the barrio. It was a heroic undertaking because the descent from the mountainside was dangerous. One misstep on the part of the rescuers would have mean death to all of us.”
For 18 hours, twelve barrio men took turns in carrying Mata on a hammock. It was a hot day and blisters developed where the raw burns had rubbed against the old hammock.
As soon as Mata reached the Southern Island Hospital in Cebu City, Dr. Jose V. Agustines, hospital chief treated him for severe shock and pain from second and third degree burn on his thighs, arms and legs.
“But although I was suffering from intense pain,” Mata said. “I did not lose consciousness in the hospital. As a matter of fact, I was able to dictate to a nurse a press dispatch to my paper. I began that dispatch with ‘President Magsaysay is dead.’”
“When a physician saw what I had just done, he remarked: ‘You are newsman to the end.’”
At the close of our brief conversation, Mata repeated the question.
“What does God want me to do?”