Plane’s main wreckage still not found
MANILA, Philippines — The main wreckage of the ill-fated twin engine Piper Seneca, which carried Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and with Registry No. RPC 4431, has not been found, as of Sunday evening.
“No sightings, so far,” said Transportation and Communication Secretary Mar Roxas, the Palace-designated spokesperson for the search and rescue operations for the missing Robredo and the two pilots of the ill-fated plane that crashed off the coast of Masbate City before dusk Saturday.
Only the right wing of the twin-engine plane has been recovered, but divers have not yet located the aircraft believed to be 130-131 feet underwater.
At about 3 p.m. Sunday, a team from the Masbate Bantay-Dagat relayed an initial report to Masbate City Mayor Socrates Tuason and Police Superintendent Rodolfo Abella, the city chief of police, that a large object had been detected lying on the seabed.
But when the Philippine Daily Inquirer sought a confirmation from Roxas by phone, he replied:
“Nothing yet. Some underwater, seabed disturbances of indeterminate origin indicated by sonar.”
Roxas said that the divers were still scouring an area of 40-80 meters.
The crash site is about 200 meters from the tip of the runway of the Masbate airport, the only airstrip servicing all 21 towns of the island-province of Masbate.
Roxas said that divers from the Philippine Coast Guard, Navy Special Operations Group and Philippine National Police have been using Trimix or Nitrox blend (a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen), which extended the dive/bottom time of divers, compared to using the usual compressed air.
It was Abella who became the ground commander at the initial phase of search and rescue operations ordered by Mayor Tuason, before the provincial command took over Saturday.
The President himself became the ground commander when he arrived early Sunday to personally oversee the Robredo search.
Roxas described the search and rescue efforts as “air, surface and underwater” operations.
The President was accompanied by Roxas, defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Philippine National Police Chief Nicanor Bartolome, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Representative Jun Abaya, the president of the ruling Liberal Party (LP).
“Throughout the night, search and rescue operations for Secretary Jesse Robredo and party continued. More assets are being deployed this morning to intensify the search,” said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, adding:
“In the meantime, the President, along with Secretaries Roxas, Abad, Gazmin and Representative Abaya flew to Masbate at 5:45 a.m. to personally observe the search and rescue effort. We will be issuing more updates as they become available.”
In an interview with Radyo ng Bayan, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said:
“The President himself is there at the command center for the search and rescue,” said Valte.
The circumstances of plane crash were also unclear, with details
Valte said that Robredo’s aide, Chief Insp. Jun Abrazado, who survived the crash, had tried to help in the rescue operations in the first few hours following the crash, which authorities said occurred from 4:20 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Abrazado tried but failed to extricate Robredo from the plane after impact.
“I think both Secretary Robredo and Jun Abrazado were able to send (text) messages (before the crash). I think Mr. Abrazado sent it to one of his colleagues that they were having engine trouble and then Secretary Jess sent a message to his wife also on the same subject.
“But … he was not able to … he was trying, I think, to pull out Secretary Jess from the plane but, perhaps, we’ll leave it to Secretary Roxas for the finer details of the story of Jun Abrazado,” said Valte.
The President had visited Abrazado at a Masbate hospital before he was brought to Bicol mainland at noon Sunday.
“Abrazado is in the hospital right now after, I think, he lost consciousness. Because, when he was rescued, they found out that he had a fractured arm. But Jun Abrazado had insisted on going back to the site to help in the search and rescue for Secretary Jess and the other two pilots. So now he is under observation, and the President is back at the center of the site to oversee the search and rescue that is ongoing,” said Valte.
Search and rescue operations of the Masbate City Bantay Dagat under Mayor Tuason and Police Supt. Gonzalo Villamor, the provincial deputy director for operations, were underway when the Inquirer contacted Tuason and Governor Rizalina Seachon-Lanete—at 6 p.m. Saturday.
According to Tuason, witnesses saw the plane trying to land on the tarmac of the Masbate airport at about 4:20 p.m. However, the plane suddenly plunged into the waters about 200 meters from the shore.
The crash was witnessed by Masbateños who were having their leisurely weekend walk at the Masbate Circumferential Road, which separates the airstrip’s northern tip from the seashore.
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