By: Florence F. Hibionada
HUNDREDS of local fishers, elite teams of the Philippine Government and naval specialists of the United States Government are on a unified search and rescue operations off Masbate waters. The joint mission is to find Interior and Local Government Secretary Jessie Robredo and two of the pilots of a chartered Piper Seneca plane.
This, as Transportation and Communication Secretary Mar Roxas stressed to reporters in Masbate that “search and rescue operations” or “search and recovery” efforts continue.
Robredo, pilot Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese flight student Kshitiz Chand were reported as still “missing” as of presstime. The fourth passenger, Senior Inspector Jun Abrasado, survived the crash.
Roxas in a series of media updates shared that the plane encountered apparent engine trouble some 30 minutes after take-off in Mactan Airport. Radio exchanges were made on a planned return to Cebu or to go straight to Naga Airport yet minutes thereafter a decision was made to do an emergency landing in Masbate Airport.
With the right engine off and only one engine working, the four-seater Piper Seneca plane had its wheels deployed for landing, Roxas cited Abrasado as telling him. Last recorded radio signal was minutes before 5pm.
Upon impact of the sea crash landing, the plane’s fuselage exploded with Abrasado recalling water up to chest-deep within seconds. Secretary Roxas said Abrasado then tried to feel around the next seat where Secretary Robredo was, yet failed to locate him.
A nearby fisherman rescued Abrasado who insisted minutes into his rescue to help responding locals in going back to the crash site. Abrasado has since been brought back to the Masbate Doctor’s Hospital awaiting clearance following neuro-check ordered by authorities.
The Piper Seneca aircraft RP 431 was estimated to have been short of the Masbate Airport runway by some 300 to 400 meters only. Given the sea current of the crash site, debris and survivors could reach west of Masbate or by the tip of Ticao Island.
Since Saturday’s tragedy, news wires identified Secretary Roxas as Malacanang’s designated official on the matter.
Failing to reach Masbate Airport for an emergency landing, the nation got wind of said breaking news late Saturday afternoon.
DZMM reporter Edwin Servidal was on the scene yesterday and confirmed immediate US Government search and rescue efforts. A US naval plane, Servidal reported, conducted overhead flights in the area the very evening of Saturday’s tragedy. The plane is known to be fully equipped with infra-red equipment to detect and have a full nighttime view of the sea surface.
Roxas via social networking site Twitter said US assistance was coursed through US Naval Attache Capt. Jack Sutherland. Two US planes with deepwater maritime search capabilities Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) were made available with one flying in from Japan. The IFR as designed is for deepwater marine search and rescue operations that can manage even in the most difficult in weather conditions.
News wires reported of Philippine Naval boats sent on the scene with sonars on board that are able to secure magnetic resonance imaging or “pictures” of unnatural sightings on the seabed. In the area are BRP Hilario Ruiz (PG 378), BRP Simeon Castro (PG 374) BRP Carlos Albert (PG 375) and DF 339.
Four primary areas have been tagged where search and rescues operations are focused that have thus far yielded the plane’s wing and several of the plane’s debris.
Meantime, by 2pm, The Daily Guardian (TDG) gathered that members of the national and local media wanting to return and revisit the crash site were barred by authorities.
With command post set up in a local resort in Masbate, news teams from various networks converged here to cover ongoing search and rescue operations. The “request” to hold off visit to the crash site heightened speculations of a major find in the wreckage area cum “area of interest.”