Isabela crash: Pilot dead but passenger missing
CAUAYAN CITY — After almost a week of searching for a light aircraft that crashed in the Sierra Madre mountains in San Mariano, Isabela, the rescue team finally reached the wreckage on Thursday and discovered the body of the pilot but found no trace of the lone passenger around the area.
The 11-member rescue team, which started hiking to the site following a drop-off in the forests near the plane’s location, was able to reach the wreckage in Barangay Casala at 11 a.m., the Incident Management Team (IMT) reported on Thursday afternoon.
“Sadly, the pilot (Capt. Levy Abul II) was found lifeless. The lone passenger (Erma Escalante) was not found in the vicinity. However, she appears to have survived the crash as indicated by a makeshift shelter that she presumably put up near the wreckage,” Joshua Hapinat, IMT spokesperson, said in a text message to Inquirer.
Hapinat said the rescue team planned to bring the remains of the pilot to a helicopter landing zone and, “if the weather permits,” have it airlifted to the Philippine Air Force’s Tactical Operations Group 2 in Cauayan City on Friday. He did not provide details on the condition of the pilot’s body as they were still waiting for updates from the rescue team.
Teams of K9 trackers will be tapped to help find Escalante, a 43-year-old resident of Palanan town, also in Isabela, he said.
“The K9 trackers will be flown and dropped near the wreckage. Starting at the site of the wreckage, the K9 trackers will then follow the path that the passenger took through the scent that she left on the vegetation that she passed by,” Hapinat said.
In a media briefing on Thursday, lawyer Constante Foronda, IMT commander, said the Piper plane (RP-C1234) was “almost intact,” unlike the wreckage of a Cessna plane that was destroyed in another crash in Divilacan, Isabela, in January. Six people, including the pilot, died in the Divilacan crash.
Foronda earlier said the thick forests, steep hills, and other challenges on the ground had slowed down the progress of rescuers.
Meanwhile, the 44-member Palanan ground rescue team decided to pull out of the search operation since another team in Casala village in San Mariano was nearer the site.
Glenn Cabaldo, Palanan municipal disaster risk reduction and management officer, said that the rescuers had to trek the rainforests and cross swollen rivers to reach the wreckage. Some rescuers, he said, suffered injuries and fell sick.
The crash site was within two thickly forested mountains, making the landing “too difficult” for helicopters.
The Piper plane, owned by Fliteline Airways and operated by Cyclone Airways, took off from Cauayan Airport at 9:39 a.m. on Nov. 30. It was supposed to arrive at Palanan Airport, some 70 kilometers away, on the same day but went radio silent when it reached the borders of San Mariano and Palanan in the Sierra Madre mountain ranges.