Lionair fleet grounded for medical plane fire probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 30) — The entire fleet of charter airline Lionair has been grounded after one of its medical evacuation aircraft caught fire while it was taking off at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines spokesperson Eric Apolonio on Monday said the order covers all seven of Lionair's planes and helicopters "while investigation is ongoing."

The Agusta WW24 aircraft carrying a patient caught fire Sunday, just before 8 p.m. and killed all the eight people on board. Filipino doctor Nicko Bautista, an American national, a Canadian national and five other Filipinos perished in the flight. The Filipinos also included a flight medic, a nurse, and three flight crew.

Apolonio told CNN Philippines the investigation into the ill-fated incident may take six months to a year.

He said the cockpit voice recorder of the medical evacuation plane has been retrieved, which will help authorities investigate the second fatal incident in less than a year involving Lionair.

In September 2019, a Lionair twin-engine plane exploded mid-air and crashed into a resort village in Barangay Pansol in Calamba, Laguna. The crash killed nine passengers, including the pilot and co-pilot.

CAAP said the two air incidents cannot be compared.

"Same operator but its's a different kind of aircraft. We cannot speculate," Apolonio said.