After 45 days, crash site in Isabela found
CAUAYAN CITY — The slim chance of finding survivors from the Cessna plane that crashed in Isabela province more than a month ago was dashed on Thursday after the team searching for the aircraft’s wreckage confirmed that its pilot and five passengers had died.
Constante Foronda, disaster risk reduction and management officer (DRRMO) of Isabela province, said the wreckage of the six-seat Gen AV Cessna 206 was discovered in the forests of Barangay Ditarum in Divilacan town at 11:35 a.m., after more than six weeks of search since the plane disappeared on January 24.
Authorities identified the pilot as Capt. Eleazar Mark Joven and his passengers Val Kamatoy, 34; Kamatoy’s nephews—Rom Joshtle Manday, 15, and siblings Mark Eiron Siguerra, 21, and Xam Siguerra, 10; and Josefa Perla Espana.
According to the Divilacan DRRMO, the victims’ bodies were already decomposing but they could still be identified.
During an online interagency meeting on Thursday, Foronda said it would take two to three days to retrieve the bodies from the crash site.
“The retrieval will depend on the weather. But we can’t recover the bodies all at the same time,” Foronda said during the meeting.
He said boats would be deployed to help the retrieval team cross rivers since airlifting the bodies would also be difficult.
Based on a report from the search team, the plane crashed in an area covered with thick vegetation, and the aircraft was split due to the impact.
According to ground rescuers who found the bodies around 1 p.m., some parts of the plane were found hanging in trees while belongings of the victims were scattered on the ground.
The discovery of the wreckage came 45 days after the aircraft went off radar after it took off from the Cauayan Domestic Airport at 2:16 p.m. on January 24. It was supposed to arrive at the airport of Maconacon town, also in Isabela, some 60 kilometers away, at 3 p.m. that day.
At the meeting, Ezekiel Chavez, head of Divilacan DRRMO, said the crash site was within the target area of the search teams.
Ditarum is adjacent to the villages of Dicaruyan and Sapinit, where the initial searches were carried out. These areas are situated within 10 kilometers from the cell site where the last mobile phone signal from one of its passengers was logged.
Chavez said the search team, guided by scent-sniffing dogs, found the wreckage after earlier three attempts failed.
“The team could not immediately penetrate the area because of the swollen Ditarum River amid heavy rains due to the northeast monsoon,” Chavez said at the meeting.
Poor weather conditions and rough terrain forced the search teams, including those from the Philippine Air Force (PAF), to suspend the aerial and ground searches several times.
Four retrieval teams composed of 39 emergency responders would face the same challenges, Foronda said, explaining the expected delay in bringing down the bodies from the crash site.
According to the incident management team, the crash site is located some 20 km from the nearest village road, but the retrieval teams would have to cross rivers and mountains while going down the steep, forested terrain.
Once retrieved, the victims’ bodies would be taken to the headquarters of PAF’s Tactical Operations Group 2 in Cauayan City, where the families were asked to wait, Chavez said.