Words by Lucky Chan
Photos by Karl Angelo G. delos Santos
As Philippine Air Lines Flight PR113, bound for Manila left the Los Angeles Airport, carrying 347 passengers and 18 crew members, everything was just like any other flight on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 21 L.A. time (Friday, Nov. 22 MNL time).
Captain Triston Ray Abracia Simeon was handling the controls of the Boeing 777, with registry number RP-C7775. Unbeknownst to the passengers, Captain Simeon was not just a regular seasoned pilot, He is, is in fact, a safety pilot and is in charge of seeing to the air safety worthiness of all PAL Airbus 320 and monitors the flights of all PAL, which includes the performance of the pilots and the planes.
A couple of minutes after taking off, the flight crew observed bursts of flame shooting from their aircraft’s right engine number 2. After some quick evaluation of the situation, Captain Simeon and the flight crew elected to turn back to the airport to make a precautionary emergency landing at LAX.
Capt. Simeon, Purser Joanne Mari Dirige, and the rest of the flight and cabin crew were quick to address the problem and immediately called for a precautionary emergency landing. After the plane’s landing at approximately 12:00 noon., passengers immediately disembarked and were attended to.
PAL released an official statement, commending the plane’s crew members for their brave efforts. “We likewise recognize and appreciate the calm professionalism exhibited by our experienced flight and cabin crew, headed by Captain Triston Simeon and Purser Joanne Marie Dirige, in executing the unscheduled landing and taking care of our passengers,” the statement read.
Philippine Airlines (PAL) spokesperson Cielo Villaluna commended the pilot captain and its crew of flight PR 113. “Hats off to you B777 Capt. Triston Simeon for successfully landing the aircraft at Los Angeles’ Tom Bradley International Airport!” says Ms. Villanuna, on behalf of the PAL Management. Aside from Capt. Simeon, the rest of the flight crew consisted of First Officer Louie Quinit, female Second Officer Iris Matilde Leoncio, Second Officer Pio Paolo Gindap, while the cabin crew roster was led by Purser Joan Dirige.
Villaluna added that “all 347 passengers and 18 crew members are safe with no injury and were able to disembark from the airplane using regular airstairs. We affirm that safety is our top priority and that Philippine Airlines is fully cooperating with the concerned airport and aviation authorities.” She further emphasized, “We likewise recognize and appreciate the calm professionalism exhibited by our experienced flight and cabin crew, headed by Captain Tristan Simeon and Purser Joanne Marie Dirige, in executing the unscheduled landing and taking care of our passengers.”
Hero Pilot is Green All The Way.
A product of De La Salle Lipa High School class of 1995, Triston Simeon is a soft-spoken Christian Gentleman who grew up as an AirForce kid, as his dad was a pilot with the Philippine Air Force. Growing up in the officers’ housing units at Fernando AirBase in Lipa, Batangas, Triston already dreamt of becoming a pilot someday. Moving to Manila after high school, Triston earned his college diploma from De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in 1999 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Applications.
The Long Flight to his Wings
After college, he was petitioned by his Nurse Mom to go to the United States and see where his destiny will take him. Finding a job related to his course was a challenge, so he started working in the US as a medical biller in the business office of a hospital. Then he joined a cellular phone distributor company, first as a clerk then later, because of his college diploma, he was trained to be a shipping manager. Then he saved as much money as he can in order to finance his dream of becoming an airplane pilot by studying in a Long Beach Flying School in the US, “naandoon na ako eh” he adds.
Then the historical 911 incident happened – aviation schools in the US had to close. Triston’s Dad, Capt. Reynaldo Corona Simeon, who was then connected with PAL, urged him to come back to the Philippines as the aviation school program of PAL was suddenly open. His destiny called and he returned in 2001 to enroll in the PAL Aviation School. His dad being an employee of PAL, was given a 5-year-no interest scholarship loan worth P1.3 million to be deducted from his salary. Nowadays, a full course would average between P4.3M to P5M.
By 2003, he was able to get his wings as a commercial pilot. But he had to wait in line before he can fly a PAL plane, as there was no vacancy yet. He then goes back to the US to work as a salesman for a cellular phone company called Sprint. After a year and a half, he finally gets an email from PAL for him to go back to the Philippines to start his flying career.
It was back to the training room, for now, Pilot Simeon and in 2005, he was ready to take the role of 2nd officer, the entry-level, and third in command inside the airplane cockpit. As the 2nd officer, they are tasked in flying the planes while cruising during long haul flights, while the captain takes his break. Take-off and landings are done by the first officer and the captain.
In 2008, 2nd office Simeon became a 1st officer of “narrow bodies”, meaning domestic flights or Airbus 320’s. By 2011, he became a Captain of the AirBus 320. Then several years later, in 2015, he became an instructor pilot of the same airplane type. In 2016, Capt. Triston Simeon joined the management of PAL as a safety pilot for AirBus 320. A tough job, as he has to monitor all the flights up in the air in real-time.
Two to three times a month, Capt. Simeon flies the airplane to the West Coast, USA, Canada, and some regional flights to Bangkok and Singapore. He does this to essentially be current with his license. In the past, a domestic flight was more convenient for him and his family as he can be back within the day, or at the most, an overnight stay in Cebu. Now that he is rated as a triple 7 pilot, he has to fly long haul flights that take 3-4 days out of the country.
Immediately upon landing PR fight 113, he messaged his wife Winnie Ann who was in New York then with their son, Triston Jr and 1-year old daughter Lily. Capt. Simeon adds, “New York is 3 hours ahead, so it was important to get to them before the news”. He also contacted his parents and his siblings in Los Angeles.
Captain Simeon revealed that, as pilots, they are constantly training for these scenarios. They can handle planes with one engine or no engine at all. Rest assured that flying is still a safe way to travel.
To our Lasallian Hero Pilot – We salute you! Animo and Mabuhay!
This article was originally published in Vol. 18 No. 1 of AnimoMagazine