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CEBU CITY, Philippines—On Wednesday, Captain Jessup Bahinting was asked if he could lend one of his planes to the city government to pick up four vials of antidote for snake bite on Camiguin Island.
Without hesitation, Bahinting, 60, chairman and CEO of Aviatour Air, told his Nigerian pilot to fly one of the company’s Cessna planes and get the antidote. The mission eventually helped save the life of Cebu City zookeeper Ronald Aventurado, who had been bitten by a king cobra.
Three days later, Bahinting went missing, along with Interior Secretary Jessie Robredo and Nepalese flight student Kshitiz Chand, after the six-seater Piper Seneca he himself was flying crashed in the waters off Masbate.
On Sunday, Cebu City traffic chief Sylvan Jakosalem, a close friend of Bahinting’s, spoke in sadness about the tragedy.
“It makes me very sad because it’s a double whammy. We still do not know what happened to Secretary Jesse Robredo and a very good friend of mine (Bahinting),” Jakosalem said.
He described Bahinting as a good man who didn’t have second thoughts about lending his plane to save the life of someone he didn’t even know.
Bahinting even asked about Aventurado’s recovery after the zookeeper had been saved, Jakosalem said.
On Friday, he sent a text message to Bahinting that Aventurado was gaining strength and was taken off the ventilator. Bahinting, a retired pastor who served with the Grace Communion International from 1984 to 1996, replied in a text message: “Praise the Lord.”
Bahinting often used his planes on charity missions, said Margaret Rose Veniegas, who worked with Aviatour from 2006 to April this year.
She said Bahinting would approve the airlifting of people from faraway provinces to Cebu for emergencies without thinking about the cost. He would even fly people with cleft palate to Cebu for free so they could have an operation.
Born in Siquijor and raised in Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, Bahinting was first exposed to aviation through his father, who worked at the Civil Aviation Administration (now the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines).
At 19, he became assistant to Antonio Sabijana, the pilot of former Representative Herminio Teves.
In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer in March 2011, Bahinting said Sabijana taught him “how to fly and fix machines and engines.” Besides being a pilot, Bahinting was also a mechanic.
But it was in Davao where he formally trained as a pilot. He escorted the delivery of an aircraft repaired by Sabijana’s company.
“I got my formal training there but I already learned a lot from my previous mentor (Sabijana) who not only taught me the technical skills but also taught me the values of diligence, hard work and humility,” Bahinting said in the Inquirer interview.
He again worked as a helper to a mechanic whose boss owned the Mindanao Aeronautical Technical School.
Bahinting established Aviatour in Lapu-Lapu City in 2002, offering charter tours to Korean honeymooners. The business later developed into a full-blown aviation company that offered chartered services and aerial tours, maintenance services and aircraft sales. It opened a flight school in 2006.
Bahinting and his wife, Marge, managed the company. Their daughter Sarah handled marketing.
Aviatour also has two flight schools in Texas and California in the United States, both managed by his eldest daughter, Jemar.
Bahinting’s son, Dan, is a pilot based in the United States.
Former Aviatour employee Veniegas said Bahinting was a stickler for safety. He always saw to it that Aviatour’s aircraft regularly underwent safety inspection and were certified for air-worthiness. He also saw to it that his flight students had their licenses before he took in new ones.
Veniegas, who worked with Bahinting and Jemar in promoting the company’s aerial tour business and the flight school, said Bahinting flew for VIPs, like government officials and businessmen.
In another interview with the Inquirer in September 2010, Bahinting said flight instructors at the Aviatour school were dwindling. He lamented that few Filipinos enrolled in flight schools because they thought the tuition was expensive.
Most of the Aviatour students come from countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
“There are no available scholarships for prospective students,” Bahinting said. “For those who do not know the industry well, they think that going to a flight school is expensive. In reality, it’s almost the same (expenses) when (you send a student to) study medicine.”—With a report from Doris C. Bongcac, Inquirer Visayas