President escorts body of Robredo to Naga; Search for plane and pilots ends in sunken plane at depth of 180 feetCebu Daily News
After three days of a deep sea search in Masbate, President Aquino took home the remains of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, fulfilling a promise to his grief-stricken family.
Robredo’s flag-draped coffin was flown to Naga City yesterday with plans set in motion for a state funeral.
Retrieval operations continue for Cebu pilot Capt. Jessup Bajinting and his Nepalese co-pilot Kshitiz Chan.
Divers spotted the bodies of the three men inside the fuselage or main body of the Piper Seneca light plane, which was lying belly up some 800 meters from the Masbate shoreline at a depth of 55 meters (180 feet).
“Robredo was first to be accessed by the diver since Secretary Jess was close to the door (of the plane). He was slowly brought up,” said Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas, who oversees the retrieval operations.
“The airplane was inverted and in that configuration, the two pilots are closest to the dashboard of the cockpit, so they are really situated in the deepest part of the cockpit. Secretary Jess, being a passenger at the back, could be easily accessed,” Roxas explained.
The President flew from Manila to Masbate City upon hearing about the recovery. He accompanied the casket bearing Robredo’s body on the C-130 Hercules on the flight to Naga City.
“I think he wants to bring a friend home,” said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad at the Masbate airport.
The lone survivor of the Aug. 18 crash, Robredo’s police aide, Senior Insp. June Paolo Abrazado, said the pilot veered the plane away and landed in the water to avoid hitting a populated area during the emergency landing in Masbate. (See his account in Opinion page 12)
“Ma’am Leni, kids here. Honors drumming slow cadence, trumpet with mournful wail. So so tearfully sad. You’re home now Jesse,” Roxas said in a Twitter message addressed to Robredo’s wife Maria Leonor upon landing with the President at Naga Airport.
President Aquino declared Aug. 21 until Robredo’s interment as national days of morning in Proclamation No. 460. Flags will be lowered to half-mast in Malacañang, the city of Naga, and all government buildings.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa had been designated officer of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Technical divers led by Matt Reed of Britain found the wreckage of the plane at 7:21 a.m.
The discovery was announced by Secretary Roxas as he tried to fight off tears:”Sad as it is, we are now in search and recovery retrieval at 9:30 a.m.”
The President was earlier informed at 7:50 a.m.
Mr. Aquino had stayed in Masbate to oversee the Robredo search for two days but had to leave late Monday for Naga City, where he condoled with the Robredo family, en route to Manila, where he was to attend ceremonies on Tuesday marking the death anniversary of his assassinated father, the late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.
Upon hearing Roxas’ report, the President sought further confirmation.
The diver could not come up directly to the surface because he had to stay underwater for his decompression sequence. So he sent up his waterproof scuba dive slate with the information that the fuselage has been found, Roxas said.
Robredo’s remains were brought to the surface and transferred to a Coast Guard vessel where Eli Antonino, sister of General Santos City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio, gave a positive identification that the body was that of Robredo.
Asked to recall the President’s initial response, Roxas said:
“The President was very quiet. He sought absolute confirmation, and when it was confirmed, I had to call him back. He wanted to make sure that there is a close kin to Ma’am Leni beside her.”
She was not in her house, “ so we decided to tell her, instead of her getting speculations from other sources,” Roxas said, recalling the President calling Robredo’s wife at about 8:15 or 8:20 am. The President also called up Robredo’s brother, Butch, who was in Masbate at the time.
The 54-year-old Robredo, a father of three daughters, was en route from Cebu City to Naga when the plane crashed into the sea at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Roxas assured the pilots’ families that “scuba tanks and other equipment are being deployed underwater to continue with the retrieval operations of the other bodies inside the cockpit.”
He said the retrieval operation “was very, very delicate” with a risk of the plane being pushed into deeper waters.
He said they asked the help of forensic experts from the Army, the Navy, Philippine National Police, and the Department of Health to ensure that the body is preserved.
He said divers—both military and civilian—exerted care in extracting Robredo’s body.
Roxas thanked everyone for helping the government find Robredo.
“The success is the success of everybody who helped. It was a massive operation. All of these proved that if Filipinos are united, they can accomplish good things,” said Roxas.
n ceremonies at the Naga airport, the casket was turned over by the President to Robredo’s widow while a 19-member band of the Philippine National Police played a sorrowful score in the background. Only the family of Robredo was allowed at the waiting area of Naga Airport.
The hearse and convoy of vehicles going to Naga City left Naga Airport at 1:14 p.m. while along the route people went out to watch by the side of the road./INQUIRER