The 1957 crash of a Douglas C-47 plane named "Mt. Pinatubo" on the slopes of Mount Manunggal, Cebu, Philippines, killed the 7th President of the Philippines, Ramon Magsaysay, and 24 other passengers. The crash is estimated to have occurred at 1:40:00 AM, March 17, 1957, Philippine Standard Time (17:40:00 PM, March 16, 1957, GMT). Several high-ranking Philippine government and military officials, as well as journalists, were also among the dead. A reporter for the Philippine Herald, Nestor Mata, was the sole survivor of the accident.
At the time of his death, President Magsaysay, a Nacionalista, was widely popular and was expected to easily win re-election in the November presidential elections.
The aircraft involved in the crash was a newly reconditioned twin engine C-47A-75-DL Skytrain, 42-100925, c/n 19388, which was operated by the Philippine Air Force and served as the official presidential plane of Magsaysay. The plane had been newly purchased with less than 100 hours of logged flight. It had a crew of five, all officers of the Philippine Air Force led by the pilot, Major Florencio Pobre.
The plane was named Mt. Pinatubo after a long inactive volcano then best known as the tallest mountain in Magsaysay's home province of Zambales. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo, which had been dormant since the 14th century, erupted in what was the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century, leaving over 800 people dead.
On March 16, 1957, President Magsaysay arrived at Cebu City for a series of speaking engagements in the city later that day. He spoke at a convention of USAFFE veterans, at the University of the Visayas, the Southwestern College and at the University of San Carlos. In the evening, he attended a party at the home of Cebu City mayor Sergio Osmeña, Jr. He left for Lahug Airport and boarded his plane shortly before midnight, sent off at the airport by a group led by the mayor's father, former President Sergio Osmeña.
The aircraft took off from Lahug Airport for Nichols Field, around 640 kilometers away near Manila, at 1:00:00 AM, Sunday, March 17. The weather was fine and the ceiling unlimited with low broken clouds and a bright moon. Eyewitnesses on the ground observed that the airplane had not gained enough altitude as it approached the mountain ranges in Balamban. At 01:17:00 AM, the plane radioed the official presidential home, Malacañang, to have the President fetched at Nichols Field at around 03:15 AM. This communication was the last ever conveyed by the plane.
Concerns arose after Magsaysay's plane failed to arrive at Nichols Field on schedule. By breakfast time, First Lady Luz Magsaysay and the Magsaysay family were informed that the plane had gone missing. An all-out air and sea search was instituted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, with the assistance of the United States Air Force and Navy. The search had initially focused on the sea, as much of the flight route was over the ocean. The news had also spread throughout Manila and the rest of the Philippines, people weeping openly upon hearing of the missing flight.
In the mid-afternoon of March 17, a local town official in Cebu announced that the plane had crashed on the slopes of Mount Manunggal, in Balamban, Cebu, approximately 22 miles northwest of Cebu City. Several local residents had heard the crash and discovered the flaming wreckage of the plane on the morning of the 17th. They discovered one survivor, Nestor Mata, a reporter with the Philippine Herald newspaper, whom they transported down the mountain. Mata, who suffered second- and third-degree burns, estimated that the plane had crashed around 1:40:00 AM. There were no other survivors. Military rescuers arrived at the crash site the following day, March 18. The body of President Magsaysay was identified by his brother through his wristwatch and later confirmed by dental records. It was determined that at the time of the crash, Magsaysay had been inside his special cabin, located just behind the cockpit.
Within hours after the official identification of President Magsaysay's body, Vice President Carlos P. Garcia was sworn in as the 8th President of the Philippines. At the time of the crash, Garcia had been in Australia, attending a conference of the SEATO.
In addition to President Magsaysay and Mata, the plane carried 24 others, including former Senator Tomas Cabili, a hero of the guerrilla resistance movement during World War II; Secretary of Education Gregorio Hernandez; Representative Pedro Lopez (1915–1957) of the 2nd District of Cebu; and General Benito Ebuen (1912–1957), commanding general of the Philippine Air Force. Also on board was former Olympian Felipe Nunag, then serving as an aide-de-camp to Magsaysay. The other passengers included various civilian and military aides to the President and three journalists. Speechwriter and presidential adviser Jesus Paredes, Jr., the father of singer Jim Paredes and journalist Ducky Paredes, was among those killed in the crash.
There were initial speculations that sabotage had caused the plane crash. Magsaysay had first come into prominence when as Secretary of Defense during the Quirino administration, he had led the fight against the communist-inspired insurgency of the Hukbalahap movement. However, no evidence emerged to support the theory of sabotage. On April 27, 1957, the chief of the Philippine Constabulary, General Manuel F. Cabal, testified before a Senate committee that the crash had been caused by metal fatigue, which had broken a drive shaft that caused a power failure on board the plane shortly after takeoff. He added that while the plane was gaining altitude, the spindle drive shaft of the right engine carburetor had snapped.
Its investigation was shown in the Philippine TV news show Case Unclosed as its 11th episode.