Ships, helicopters, divers search for Robredo

By Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at Aug 19 2012 02:54 PM | Updated as of Aug 19 2012 10:54 PM

Robredo was supposed to take commercial flight – Roxas

MANILA, Philippines -- The government is not giving up on its search for Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo on Sunday even as its vessels continue to fight strong currents in the waters off Masbate.

“We're remaining hopeful that Sec. Robredo was just carried by currents last night and will be found. In the meantime, we will be conducting all the search necessary both air-born and water surface, and underwater, in order to do the complete work in this search and rescue,“ Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas said.

He said even President Benigno Aquino III would want to oversee the search and rescue operations until the very end, adding that the president wants to be at the command post overnight, if not for security risks.

There are no details up to when Aquino would stay in Masbate.

Aquino had already ordered the full force of government to search for Robredo, pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese co-pilot Kshitiz Chand, who were on board a six-seater Piper Seneca aircraft when it crashed at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

At least 25 sea vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard, the Navy, Philippine National Police and the local governments are now involved in the search and rescue operations which resumed early Sunday.

For its part, the Philippine Air Force has brought in five helicopters, including its most modern assets, three Sokol and 2UH1H, in search and rescue efforts, while the United States government has also fielded a US Fleet Survey team based in Cavite.

Divers help

The rescue team from Masbate Provincial Risk Reduction Management Council immediately set off this morning to join in the search operations.

Divers did not waste time and joined those monitoring the area. The group included Joseph Belda, the fisherman who helped rescue Robredo’s aide, Jun Abrazado.

“In terms of personnel, I don't know, but the specialized personnel, in terms of special ops divers, there's roughly 50 of them, from PNP, Coast Guard, Navy... They're taking turns because when you dive, especially if you go deep, you have to have surface interval time, which is time for you to detoxify from the nitrogen that you've taken in while down below. So they're going in teams and doing this grid search,” Roxas said.

At the command center, medical personnel and local officials are waiting for any news. Each time a rescue boat appears, everyone would run towards the shoreline hoping for good news.

Also waiting at the command post is Robredo’s elder brother Butch, who is blind.

Commercial plane

Based on the timeline of the Department of Transportation and Communications, Robredo was supposed to take a commercial flight to Naga, where his family was waiting for him.

“For reasons known only to Secretary Robredo, he decided to take a private plane instead of taking the commercial flight. The secretary opted to fly using one of the planes of Aviatour Air, an aviation company based in (Mactan Cebu International Airport),” Roxas said.

At around 3:30 p.m., Abrazado sent a text message to Col. Ritchie Posadas, telling him that the six-seater plane was experiencing problems with one of the propellers and returning back to Cebu.

Abrazado even asked that Robredo be rebooked for his commercial flight.

At around 4:20 p.m., Abrazado said they are already making an emergency landing at Masbate Airport.

Airport officials asked if they were okay, to which Abrazado answered: “Okay naman.”

That was the last message they received until reports came in that the plane had crashed. – with reports from Jose Carretero, ABS-CBN News Bicol