Officials commend Mayon plane crash responders
LEGAZPI CITY, Albay, Philippines — After nearly a week of risky retrieval effort, the remains of the four passengers of the Cessna plane that went down near the summit crater of Mayon Volcano on Feb. 18 were closer to getting back to their families.
The team deployed at the crash site that started the climb on Feb. 21 was expected to arrive at the town proper of Camalig, where the main command center was set up, by Sunday night, after recovering the bodies on Saturday and carefully bringing them down through dangerous terrain.
The members of the retrieval team — composed of 10 experienced mountaineers, three personnel from the Naval Special Operations Group, seven from the Philippine Army, and three from the Bureau of Fire Protection Special Rescue Force — were commended both by officials from local governments in Albay and the Energy Development Corp. (EDC).
The pilot, Capt. Rufino James Crisostomo Jr., and his mechanic, Joel Martin, were both employees of EDC while the Australian passengers, Simon Chipperfield and Karthi Santhanam, were company consultants.
Camalig Mayor Carlos Irwin Baldo Jr., who heads the incident command center, said on Saturday night that the town council would pass a resolution recognizing the effort and dedication of the retrieval team and the different government agencies and local volunteers involved in the operations to recover the bodies of those who perished in the crash.
During the retrieval operation, additional teams were deployed to deliver food and supplies and to maintain ground security.
The Cessna RPC340 bound for Metro Manila went missing minutes after it took off from Bicol International Airport in Daraga, Albay, at 6:43 a.m. on Feb. 18. Its wreckage was found a day later in an aerial search, some 350 meters from the volcano’s summit crater. But it was not until Feb. 22 that the bodies were found by the search team a short distance from where the plane crashed.
The retrieval team started the trip down at around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, with 20 persons assigned per body bag, which was attached to ropes anchored on solid rocks of the volcano.
Baldo said after the operations, a stress debriefing would be organized for the responders.
The EDC, which provided full logistical support during the conduct of operations, said it was thankful to the emergency responders who took risks, starting from locating the crash site to bringing the bodies down from the steep terrains.
“We are aware of the extreme challenges posed by the terrain, altitude, weather and temperature, and other hazards involved in these retrieval operations, and for coming to the aid of others, we will be eternally grateful to each and every person and team that did not stop until our four Kapamilya (family members) were located and brought down to the high ground campsite. We pray the final legs of the trip down will be safe, and that the weather will be mild and dry,” Richard Tantoco, president and chief operating officer of EDC said in a statement.
Tantoco said they were finalizing the arrangement with the families of the victims for the remains to be brought back to their homes in the Philippines and in Australia.