Missing plane’s wreckage found in Isabela forests
CAUAYAN CITY—The missing light plane that was carrying two persons was found in the remote forests of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges in Isabela province on Tuesday morning after five days of search, authorities said.
According to Joshua Hapinat, spokesperson for the incident management team (IMT) handling the search, the wreckage of the Piper plane (not Cessna as earlier reported) was spotted past 8 a.m. in the mountainous Barangay Casala in Isabela’s San Mariano town following an aerial search by the Philippine Air Force (PAF) Sokol helicopter.
The PZL W-3 Sokol rescue chopper was dispatched to search for the missing Piper Plane RPC 1234, the PAF said in a statement on Tuesday. A civilian R44 aircraft of Lion Air also helped in the search, the PAF added.
“But the chopper could not get close enough [to the crash site] to determine the condition of the occupants,” Hapinat told the Inquirer by phone.
According to the PAF, the helicopter could not land right away due to bad weather but the air crew were able to relay the exact location to ground forces for the continuous search on foot toward the plane’s exact location.
Hapinat cited information relayed by the Sokol helicopter’s pilot, who positively identified the wreckage of the Piper PA-32-300 plane (registration number RPC 1234).
Casala is adjacent to Sitio (subvillage) Dipadsangan in Barangay Didiyan, Palanan town, where the aircraft was first reported to have crashed after residents in the area reported hearing an engine noise and a thud.
The condition of the aircraft’s pilot, Capt. Levy Abul II, and its lone passenger, Erma Escalante, 43, a barangay health worker in Palanan, was not immediately known.
Lawyer Constante Foronda, the IMT commander, declined to provide details of the wreckage’s discovery but he noted that they were “deeply engaged in planning the next move.”
Foronda said a rescue operation for the plane’s occupants could not be carried out immediately on Tuesday due to the poor weather conditions in the area. As of Sunday, the rescue team has reached the forested area of Palanan and made camp some 14 kilometers from where the plane was suspected to have crashed.
Those conducting search and rescue on the ground included personnel from the Philippine Army, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, and municipal disaster risk reduction and management office units from Palanan, San Mariano and Divilacan.
The PAF said it was also committing the availability of its parajumpers and additional rescue helicopters from the 505th Search and Rescue Group for possible helicopter rescue, once weather permits.
Investigators on their way
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) also confirmed the sighting, adding that it was still waiting for reports from the ground.
Marlyn Sagorsor, the Caap North Luzon manager, said the investigators from their aircraft accident and inquiry board would immediately try to reach the crash site and search for the occupants.
“The Caap investigators will be at the site once the area is cleared for air travel. In the meantime, they will wait at the Tactical Operations Group 2 command center [in Cauayan],” Sagorsor said in a separate interview.
The Piper plane, owned by Fliteline Airways and operated by Cyclone Airways, departed from Cauayan Airport at 9:39 a.m. on Nov. 30. It was supposed to arrive at Palanan Airport, some 70 km away, at 10:23 a.m. that day.
Rescue personnel from Palanan and San Mariano were also deployed to the crash site with the help of members of the Dumagat tribe, who are familiar with the terrain leading to the crash site. —WITH A REPORT FROM FRANCES MANGOSING INQ