MANILA, Philippines -- Seven bodies were recovered yesterday from the rain-soaked wreckage of the presidential helicopter that crashed Tuesday afternoon with
eight people aboard, all aides of President Macapagal-Arroyo, in a thickly forested area in Ifugao, officials reported.
Malacañang last night confirmed that there were no survivors in the crash of the Bell 412 presidential chopper which was ferrying the President?s aides from Baguio City to Banaue before it went missing.
?There are no survivors. We mourn this great and profound loss. We laud them; they died in the line of duty, a true testament of true public service. Their service and patriotism will be remembered,? Undersecretary Lorelei Fajardo, deputy presidential spokesperson, said last night.
?We commiserate with their families and offer our deepest condolences,? she added.
Initial reports already indicated that there were no survivors in the crash at Barangay Eheb in Tinoc municipality, but the President in an earlier statement said she was hoping that there were other passengers in the helicopter still alive.
?We?re still confirming the identities even as we continue to search for the other five passengers,? said Ms Arroyo in Baguio City, where she was spending Holy Week.
Only three bodies were recovered at the time the President issued her statement at the presidential Mansion, but police Senior Superintendent Danilo Pelisco said last night four other fatalities were retrieved in the afternoon and evening.
The passengers included Undersecretaries Marilou Frostrom and Jose Capadocia Jr., who would have formed the advance team for Ms Arroyo?s inspection of road projects in Bontoc in Mt. Province and Banaue in Ifugao.
Also aboard were Assistant Director Perlita Bandayanon of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), Ms Arroyo?s senior military aide Brigadier General Carlos Clet, Philippine Air Force pilots Major Ronaldo Sacatani and Captain Alvin Alegata, Clet?s aide Philippine Navy Police Officer 3 Demilyn Reyno and flight crew Staff/Sergeant Roe Gem Perez.
?A total wreck?
Ifugao Governor Teodoro Baguilat Jr. told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, that the 1996-model twin-engine chopper, found at mid-afternoon yesterday a day after it took off from Loakan Airport in Baguio for a 20-minute flight to Banaue, was ?burned, a total wreck.?
?We couldn?t really verify how many were already found,? Baguilat said. ?But right now, the people who went there said everybody?s dead.? He said that the priority was to evacuate the bodies recovered.
?It will be by foot because it?s impossible to airlift. We don?t want to endanger the volunteers,? Baguilat said. ?It looks like they can?t be identified right now. We still don?t know who?s who.?
Police reports in Lagawe said the three burned bodies were found in the crash site at Sitio (sub-village) Mang-ngiihi in Eheb at past 3 p.m.
Two of the bodies were inside the wrecked helicopter, while another was recovered a few meters away, PMS chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said in a press briefing in Baguio.
Two more bodies were found later in the afternoon and another two were recovered from the crash site at about 6 p.m., Pelisco said.
The bodies were later taken to Tinoc, about two hours away by foot.
Rains hamper search
Ms Arroyo thanked policemen, local officials, civil volunteers and other members of the search party ?for their tireless efforts.?
In a telephone interview, Tinoc Mayor Lopez Tugong said he had asked the rescuers to continue searching for the other passenger, stressing that not all of them were accounted for. The search, he said, was hampered by rains and the difficult terrain.
But Baguilat said aerial search and rescue operation was suspended later yesterday because of torrential rains. PAF and US Marine choppers were involved in the search.
Ms Arroyo canceled her visit to Ifugao, scheduled yesterday.
Chopper in flames
Residents in Barangay Eheb said they saw the helicopter over their village on Tuesday afternoon. Senior Superintendent Pedro Danguilan Jr., Nueva Vizcaya police director, said that the chopper flew across the mountains of Kabayan, Benguet.
Delfin Espera, a Kabayan teacher, said he saw the helicopter passing through the town. ?Then the helicopter?s sound stopped abruptly. It then disappeared. Some residents reported that they saw flames coming from the helicopter,? Espera said.