Local authorities in Batangas and volunteers have not given up the search for Victor Joel Ayson, the mountaineer who went missing on Mt. Maculot on Easter Sunday, even as their efforts have now shifted from rescue operation to search and retrieval operation.
“We have practically covered the whole area, but [still found] no signs of life,” said Batangas provincial director Senior Supt. Rosauro Acio in a phone interview on Sunday.
Ayson, 27, was last seen with a group of mountaineers at the port in Batangas City in the morning of March 31 before he left the group for a solo climb to Mt. Maculot in Cuenca town on the same day.
Acio said a porter-cum-mountaineer guide stationed at the foot of the mountain said Ayson deposited his backpack to him before he went for the climb but never came back to claim it. The porter told authorities Ayson must have taken a smaller bag with him for a day-hike in the mountain, Acio added.
On Saturday, Acio said a professional mountain climber among the group rappelled down the cliff of the Rockies after they smelled something rotting in that area. Rockies is a steep rock formation inclined by 70 to 80 degrees but draws the thrill-seekers among Mt. Maculot trekkers.
“But the smell turned to be of a dead bayawak (monitor lizard),” he said.
Asked if this meant that their search would now focus on finding a body, he said: “Most likely. Although it would be difficult to declare it such unless it comes from the family,” he said.
“[Ayson] was said to be familiar with the trail so he could have found his way back by this time if he got lost; not unless he got fractured or something,” Acio added.
A team of 35 to 50 policemen, Air Force personnel and village watchmen were on their seventh day of search. Ayson’s parents and friends also stayed in Cuenca, while members of the University of the Philippines (UP) Mountaineers and other volunteers helped cover the steeper parts of the mountain trail, said Ayson’s girlfriend, Angelyn Samentar.
“Still negative,” Samentar said of the search in a text message to the Inquirer on Saturday evening.
Samentar and Ayson both graduated from UP Diliman and work at the same company as computer mainframe designers. She said Ayson loved mountain climbing.
Acio said they would continue to assess every information they could gather in the ongoing search but it would be the call of Cuenca Mayor Edmundo Remo, who is head of the Crisis Management Task Force, to decide when to call off the search.