Hopes of finding any survivors in the ill-fated flight carrying Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo grew dimmer by the hour as rescuers scour the waters near the crash site in Masbate.
A twin-propeller Piper Seneca carrying Robredo, his aide Senior Inspector Jhun Abrasado, pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese flight student Kshitiz Chand was flying to Naga City in Bicol Region after taking off from Mactan in Cebu when it encountered engine trouble past 3pm on Saturday.
Abrasado was able to survive the crash but the three others, including Robredo, remain missing more than 24 hours after the plane crashed into the water. A massive air and sea search had been launched by the various government agencies with the aid of the US Navy in hope of finding the missing people.
At least 25 vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard, Navy, and Philippine National Police scoured the crash site in Masbate. Reports said a US geological survey ship equipped with sonar equipment had also been mobilised for the effort upon the request of President Benigno Aquino.
Aside from the ships, five helicopters, including three Polish-made Sokol helicopters delivered to the government only recently, are also conducting an aerial search of the Masbate Pass where the ill-fated aircraft’s location was last reported.
The President flew to Masbate City aboard a military C-130 aircraft on Sunday to witness the search operations. Aboard the flight were several divers Besides being a member of his Cabinet, Aquino and Robredo are close friends.
Aquino conferred with local officials and search and rescue teams on updates and to review strategies to recover Robredo and the two missing pilots. An operation conducted on Saturday to find the missing was called off around 11pm but was resumed on Sunday morning.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, a former defence secretary and frequent flyer aboard government and private aircraft, said it would be a miracle if Robredo and the rest of the missing would be found alive.
“I pray that he’s alive, miracles can happen... That is my honest opinion, I hope I’m not misunderstood that I’m unfeeling,” Enrile was quoted as saying by GMA News.
According to accounts given by the recovered survivor in the crash, Senior Ins Abrasado, Robredo was strapped beside him when the latter passed out moments before the plane hit the water.
According to the 88-year-old Enrile, experience showed the crash survivors can only last for several hours in the water before they expire from exhaustion.
Witnesses said that the troubled Piper Seneca had attempted to reach an airport in Masbate before it crashed. An ABS-CBN report said the aircraft’s pilot had radioed the control tower in Cebu that it had lost power in its right engine several minutes after take off but was able to fly to Masbate.
So far, fishermen had been able to retrieve from the crash site a portion of the wing of the aircraft with its serial number 431 as well as the handwritten flight log of the pilot.