Young doctor among victims of medical evacuation aircraft fire at NAIA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 30) — A young doctor helping in the fight against the novel coronavirus was among eight people who died after a plane on a medical evacuation flight caught fire on Sunday while taking off at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The 33-year-old Dr. Cenover Nicandro "Nicko" Bautista was one of the frontliners at the Mandaluyong City Medical Center.

The Agusta WW24 aircraft carrying the group caught fire Sunday, just before 8 p.m. An American national, a Canadian national and six Filipinos including Bautista perished in the flight. The Filipinos also included a flight medic, a nurse, and three flight crew.

Hours before the incident, Bautista posted on Facebook that he can't wait for the COVID-19 crisis to be over. The doctor said he is afraid but he knows he is needed in the fight.

His sister, Ria, described him as a strong and determined man. During their last conversation, she said he was in high spirits and still found ways to make things light despite being at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight.

"Kaya niyang magbiro kahit sobrang ang serious na ng mga nangyayari, nagagawa pa rin niyang tumawa. He's a source of strength to think he's my younger brother. Tapos siya ang nag-aalaga sa sister namin, pamangkin," she reporters.

She said they had plans to gather again as a family once the Luzon-wide lockdown is lifted.

Philippine Medical Association Vice President Dr. Benito Atienza on Monday said Bautista was assigned to accompany a patient on board the ill-fated flight.

"He was assigned to one patient coming from the province. The patient wants to be transferred to Japan because there is a COVID patient in the previous hospital where the patient was admitted. Kapag nag-transfer tayo ng patient, dapat may isang doctor, nurse," he told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Investigation on the incident is still ongoing, but an initial statement from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said the aircraft reportedly encountered a technical problem while rolling for takeoff on Runway 06/24. The Manila International Airport Authority said the accident happened at the end of the runway as the aircraft was taking off.

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."

CNN Philippines' Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.