Navy divers saluted as Robredo body hoisted upBy Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MASBATE CITY—Navy technical divers Roger Brizuela and Edgar Vergara raised their hands in salute as Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo’s body was slowly being raised to the surface from the plane wreckage at the bottom of the Masbate Pass early Tuesday.
Brizuela himself narrated the underwater drama after news broke out that Robredo’s body had been located, positively identified and brought to a Coast Guard vessel.
At a media briefing that day, Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas cited a Cebu-based team led by British Matt Reed, a volunteer technical diver, for finding the body of the official inside the plane’s fuselage. The twin-engine Piper Seneca was lying belly-up some 800 meters from the shoreline at a depth of 54 meters (180 feet).
Roxas said Reed spotted the body at around 7 a.m. and quickly informed divers waiting on the surface by sending up his waterproof dive slate. President Benigno Aquino was informed of the discovery at 7:50 a.m.
Brizuela and Vergara, both Navy petty officers, performed the delicate task of retrieving the body and bringing it up in less than an hour. “We even saluted him as he slowly went up,” Brizuela said.
Reed’s team declined to be interviewed by journalists until after the retrieval effort is completed. They returned to Malapascua Island in northern Cebu, a few hours after President Aquino and several Cabinet members fetched Robredo’s body at the airport and brought to his hometown in Naga City.
Brizuela told reporters that he and Vergara, who belong to the Navy Special Operations Group, used a surface marker buoy, or SMB, to hook Robredo’s body to a “diver descending line.” The buoy later expanded on its own and slowly rose.
The retrieval operations started soon after Reed found the wreckage, but it took Brizuela and Vergara two to three minutes to reach the fuselage, the diver said.
He said he and Vergara found Robredo’s body in a “crash position” near the exit door, his seatbelt unfastened, and the two pilots stuck in the cockpit. After extricating the secretary’s body, they tried but failed to put it in a cadaver bag, and instead “clipped and hooked” it to a descending line tied to the plane’s tail.
In Cebu, Reed’s partner in Evolution Diving, a diving enterprise based in Malapascua, said the group recognized the efforts of all the individuals from the government and the joint forces, as well as civilian volunteers, in the retrieval operations.
“We’re humbled to have been able to play a small part in the search effort, which was run efficiently by all involved, and we will continue to assist in the future if we are needed,” David Joyce, an Irish national, said in an e-mailed statement.
“In light of this national tragedy, we at Evolution Diving choose to show our respect by silence and defer all questions to the official leadership of the search and recovery operations,” Joyce said. With a report from Irene R. Sino Cruz, Inquirer Visayas