No flights, no contacts: 3 PH teachers stranded in China during typhoon recount ordeal

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 19 2019 11:48 AM | Updated as of Aug 19 2019 10:19 PM

Family reunion at the airport. Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Seated on a wheel chair, 77-year-old Pacita De Guzman burst into tears as she held the hand of her younger brother Nestor Varela when they reunited near the entrance of the Ninoy Aquino International Terminal 1.

Also in wheelchairs beside them at a passageway leading to the terminal restrooms were Pacita's younger sisters, Erlinda Guce, 72, and Josefina Baysic, 70.

Nestor was by himself when he came out to meet his sisters, who had arrived via a China Eastern Airlines flight from Shanghai's Pudong International Airport before midnight on Sunday.

But he brought with him the relief of an entire family that faced more than a week without any word from the 3 sisters.

The sisters were surprised that aside from Nestor, a group of reporters and cameramen also greeted their arrival.

Nestor then told them how people they did not know throughout the Philippines also expressed concern and sent prayers hearing online of their then-unclear status.

It was a layover the sisters, all retired public school teachers, did not expect would last 8 days.


The 3 sisters on a previous vacation. Photo courtesy of Florencio Guce

The 3 were flying home from the United States after a 5-month vacation. 

Pacita said their China Eastern flight was supposed to stop over at the airport in Shanghai, but they learned the storm brought by Typhoon Lekima (called Hanna in the Philippines) forced the plane to land at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Hubei province.

She told reporters they were billeted at a local hotel, but had some questions unanswered.

"They said our flight was cancelled because of the bad weather. But we did not know when we would get to ride again. They were not telling us that," she said in Filipino. 

"We were treated very well at the hotel--the food, the accommodation, all that. After that we were sent back to the airport, expecting our flight to be rebooked, but it was not rebooked.

"It was like we were left hanging without any idea when we could go home."

Worse, they were at a loss in contacting their relatives.

Pacita said their SIM cards from their US stay had expired.

Family members back home only learned of their situation through a message Linda managed to send on August 11 through the Viber account of a fellow passenger. 

They would not get any more updates from them in the week that followed.


Recounting their ordeal. Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

The sisters were told they were placed as chance passengers and had to wait for travelers to cancel flights before they could get a ride home.

Pacita added they were issued temporary visas to stay in China until August 25. 

All the while they stayed at least 2 times more at the hotel, but would spend the other days at the airport.

"We would just sit there with so many baggages. One time we would sleep hugging our bags," Pacita said as she broke down to cry.

"We would say the rosary, praying 'Lord, please help us.' 

The sisters said they found airport staff unhelpful too since none could converse with them in English.

"Our communication was always through cellphone, which they would press for a translation," said Josefina.

"I was really stressed out."

It was a new experience for the 3, who have previously traveled together in Southeast Asia.

The sisters said they were also surprised to find they had lost both the locks and some contents of their bags when these came out of the baggage counter in China.

"Many items were lost. Even a packet of prunes was consumed. They even left some of it inside," Josefina said.

It did not keep them from lining up when they could at the airport to finally get their tickets to Shanghai and on to Manila.

In the Philippines, their family members had tried reaching out to the Philippine Consulate in Shanghai but learned it was still looking for the women.

They were informed via email in the weekend that the sisters were flying back on Sunday night.

A representative of the airline company who accompanied the retired teachers at the NAIA declined to be interviewed, saying any official statement would come from their officials.

Coming from the airport, Nestor decided to check in his sisters at a hotel in Manila for them to rest before driving them back to their family in Bulacan.

Nestor said he and his relatives have yet to decide if they would call the attention of authorities or press charges regarding the week-long incident.

For now, they are merely thankful that the detour to the 3 sisters' vacation has finally reached its end.