Search widened for Saudi student pilot who went missing in the Philippines

Saudi student pilot Abdullah Khalid Al-Sharif (right), Capt. Jose Nelson Yapparcon, his flight instructor.
Updated 05 June 2019

Search widened for Saudi student pilot who went missing in the Philippines

  • The twin-engine BB-55 disappeared from radar shortly off San Jose airport in Mindoro Island on May 17
  • Flight instructor Jose Nelson Yapparcon and Abdullah Khalid Al-Sharif, a student of the Orient Flying School, were on board.

MANILA: Search efforts for a missing Saudi aviation student and his Filipino teacher will be widened following a decision by Philippines authorities to put ocean sonar scanning on hold.
A spokesman for the Philippines Civil Aviation Authority (CAAP), Eric Apolonio, told Arab News that the search will be “repositioned” to include coastal and inland areas of Occidental Mindoro.
“Unfortunately, after days of unsuccessful sonar scanning in the search area, the sonar operation is temporarily on hold,” he said.
Representatives from the aviation authority are due to meet with Saudi embassy officials in Manila on Wednesday to provide an update on efforts to find the missing Beechcraft Baron 55 (BB-55) trainer aircraft and its two passengers, Abdullah Khalid Al-Sharif, a student of the Orient Flying School, and his flight instructor, Capt. Jose Nelson Yapparcon.
The twin-engine BB-55 operated by Orient Aviation Corp. disappeared from radar shortly after taking off from San Jose airport on May 17.
Personnel from the Philippines Armed Forces and Coast Guard, along with private divers, have been scouring the waters off San Jose since the flight went missing.
Abdullah Al-Bussairy, the Saudi ambassador, also sent embassy staff to assist in the search and investigate the disappearance of the aircraft.
Capt. Patrick Jay Retumban, a spokesman for the Army 2nd Division which has jurisdiction over Occidental Mindoro, confirmed that a meeting was held between a Saudi embassy delegation and CAAP officials on May 31 to discuss the next phase of the search operations.
Discussions centered on the condition of the pilot and aircraft, flight audio recordings before communication was lost, extension of the search operations, and the investigation of three fishermen who found a black backpack belonging to the flight instructor.
Apolonio earlier said that computer-generated information gathered during the sonar search had been brought to Cebu for analysis.
“We’re still hoping that they (Al-Sharif and Yapparcon) will be found safe,” he said.


Saudis unite in condemnation of US Navy base attack

Updated 4 min 52 sec ago

Saudis unite in condemnation of US Navy base attack

  • The attack, in which a Saudi gunman killed three Americans, is viewed as an act that does not represent Saudi people
  • The OIC has said the attacker did not represent the tolerant Islamic values that distinguish the Saudi people

From the king and top-level Saudi government officials to everyday Saudi citizens, all are united in condemning the attack on a US Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, calling it as “un-Islamic” and barbaric.

The shooting of three Americans by a Saudi gunman was an individual attack that does not represent the Kingdom’s people, it has been widely  stressed. 

For decades, many Saudis have lived in the US for work or attended universities across many states, becoming their own ambassadors. 

Nedda Akhonbay, a communications professional working in Jeddah, expressed her sadness when she heard the news.

“My condolences go out to the families of the victims as I hope they find peace in their lives after facing such a tragedy. As a Saudi-American and having spent many formative years in the US and made friends who became like family, I thought this attack was very close to home and I hope both people work together to get past it.”

“As a student who lived in the States, I never faced any problems for being a Muslim,” said Alaa Sendi, an American-Saudi lecturer working in Jeddah University.

The attack at the US naval station in Pensacola, Florida, was the second incident at an American military base in this week, following another shooting at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Wednesday. (
Josh Brasted / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Having obtained a PhD in electrical engineering, Dr. Nazih Al-Othmani lived between the states of Michigan and Pennsylvania for ten years in the late 1990s and was in the US during the 9/11 attacks. He recalled how Americans understood that such atrocious attacks never represented a community, and this one was no exception.

“The tragic event that took place yesterday does not represent us, this attack is unacceptable regardless of any reason and no sane person can ever accept it,” he said. “I lived in the States for many years, I was also there on 9/11, and made many American friends throughout my time there. They stood by us, they helped us, protected us and our relationship was very civil and courteous. We need to stand together to combat this dangerous tendency that can be found in every community.”

Many Saudis are angered over the actions of this one individual. Dr. Al-Othmani expressed his concerns about those who would take advantage of the situation and try to point a finger at Saudis.

“Though right-wingers will take advantage of the event and attack Saudi Arabia, I don’t believe many Americans will see it that way. Americans are aware enough to differentiate between the nationality of an individual and his actions,” he said.

Al-Othmani recommends that Saudi students communicate, cooperate and extend a hand of friendship to their respective communities.

In the decades of friendship and cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia, many Americans have come to work in the Kingdom and some have made it their home. 

Dr. Alia Mitchell, vice dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, is an American citizen who has been a Muslim for more than 30 years and has lived in the Kingdom for more than 20 years. She has chosen to live in the Kingdom as she sees the beauty of the religion interwoven into society, one that she believes is not represented by the shooter. 

“When something tragic that happens like this, it’s on the individual,” she said. “it doesn’t go back to the community or the society.

“I’m still sickened and mostly very, very saddened with this tragedy,” said Melanie H. “I’ve a son the same age as the shooter and can’t imagine what the pain and grief his actions would do to me as a parent. To learn that your son has caused so much hell… that he has taken others’ lives.”

She said: “I lived in Saudi Arabia for over 10 years and I have experienced Saudi’s hospitality, warmth — nothing like what I imagined or expected before arriving. It isn’t perfect but then what country or nation is?” 

“Now that the country has opened its doors to the world, people really shouldn’t judge the book by its cover especially when criminals like this shooter make such a false, misleading cover.” 

Melanie H continued: “Do not judge a people by an individual — that’s what we Americans are all about. No judging.”


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 Florida shooting ‘nothing to do with gunman’s family, tribe’


“This crime does not represent us as Saudis,” said Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, minister of Islamic Affairs, on his personal Twitter account. “We reject such criminal acts and we sympathize with the injured and the families of the victims. It is a horrible crime and a dishonest act.

“We condemn crimes anywhere and anytime, and we stress our complete rejection of such horrible criminal acts which Islam forbids.”

Saudi scholar and Imam of Quba Mosque in Madinah Saleh Al-Maghamsi shared the same notion. He said: “This incident should be stripped away from religion and from the country to which whoever committed this criminal act is affiliated. The Shariah does not approve of this act for it violates the texts of the Holy Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet, which is based on the principle of no bloodshed. Logic also does not approve of this action.” 

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the aggressor did not represent the tolerant Islamic values that distinguish the Saudi people and all Muslims who believe in tolerance, moderation and coexistence.

The General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia also condemned the shooting incident in Florida and called it a heinous crime. 

Describing it as a crime against humanity, the senior scholars stressed that such actions were against the true teachings of Islam. They said that the Saudi people will continue to uphold their noble values and contribute to the progress and prosperity of the world and humanity.