MANILA, Philippines (8th UPDATE) – A small Piper aircraft carrying Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo crashed in the sea off Masbate City Saturday afternoon.
Masbate Vice Governor Vince Revil said the plane carrying Robredo, his aide and two pilots, crashed 150 meters away from the Masbate airport as it attempted to make an emergency landing.
“Nag-emergency call that they are going to have an emergency landing sa Masbate City Airport pero nag-crash ang plane about 150 meters away from the airport , nag-crash sa dagat,” Revil told “TV Patrol: Weekend.”
Revil said Robredo’s aide, identified as Capt. Jhun Abrasado, has been rescued from the crash site. Revil said Abrazado was the one who pinpointed the location of the crash site.
Search and rescue operations are ongoing for Robredo and the two pilots, Capt. Jessup Bahinting, and a Nepalese co-pilot Kshitiz Chand.
The plane was split in half when it crashed at around 4:30 p.m., according to Abrazado.
Robredo’s plane came from Mactan, Cebu and was headed to Naga City.
Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Rico Puno said Robredo was actually booked for a Cebu Pacific flight to Manila in the afternoon but since the DILG secretary had to make a trip to Naga City, he opted to board the light aircraft.
"Apparently the plane was owned by the pilot himself... 'di ko malaman kung dati na niya 'yung sinasakyan. Ang alam ko marami rin hong nagpapahiram ng eroplano,” said Puno.
The DILG undersecretary said Robredo boarded a Piper Ceneca PA 34-200, an American twin-engine light aircraft typically used for personal and business flying.
The plane carrying Robredo reportedly experienced engine trouble before plunging off the shoreline of Masbate City, according to Transportation and Communications Secretary Mar Roxas.
“Ayon sa CAAP (Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines) ay tumawag ang piloto na nagka-[engine] trouble, ‘yung pinakamalapit na airport na tungo sa Naga ay Masbate so doon tumungo ang eroplano pero ‘di nakarating,” he told ANC.
“Mga 1 kilometer na lang from shore at doon nag-crash ang eroplano,” added Roxas.
Roxas appealed for prayers for the missing Robredo, whom he described as one of the most sensible people in the government.
“Isa po siya sa mga pinakamatino na tao, kaya ipagdasal natin siya," said Roxas.
Authorities said stormy weather was not felt in Masbate at the time of the crash.
Search, rescue operations
Scuba divers from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Philippine Navy have been deployed to search for them.
However, Masbate Governor Rizalina Lanete said that as of 7:30 p.m., search activity of the divers has been ceased due to visibility problems. The divers will resume underwater search early Sunday.
Lanete noted that visual search for the survivors is still ongoing.
Ret. Gen. Darius Tuason of the Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) said they were forced to suspend the diving efforts as darkness started to affect their operations at the crash site.
“Sa ngayon po sinuspend muna ang operations dahil madilim na. Ang napagusapan namin dito a while ago na ire-resume natin bukas ng umaga ang operations,” Tuason told dzMM.
He said the plane plunged 150 feet deep into the sea and that they have no equipment that could provide strong light under deep waters.
Search and rescue efforts for Robredo, 2 others.Photo courtesy of Red Cross Masbate
Tuason said they have posted several boats that will serve as markers at sea just above the crash site.
“May mga bangka ditong nakabantay para tomorrow morning magre-resume na ang operations,” he said.
A command center has been set-up near the crash site where rescue groups, including the police, Red Cross, Navy, Coast Guard and fishermen are helping with search and rescue efforts.
Malacañang, meanwhile, called on the public to pray for the safe rescue of Robredo and the two pilots.
“We call on the Filipino people to join the President and the Cabinet in prayer for his successful rescue. We ask that the efforts continue unimpeded and without speculation on the part of the public. We must remain focused on the task to find Robredo and his companions and to bring them to safety,” said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
The search operations resumed at around 8:30 p.m. after divers replenished their equipment.
“Sa ngayon po continuous ‘yung search and rescue operations natin kahit limited ang visibility. We're hoping na matatapos din agad ito at makikita din po hopefully si Sec. Robredo,” said Ensign Criselda Borais, of the PCG Bicol District.
Borais said the divers continued to work despite the short visibility under deep waters.
“Ang limitation po ay ‘yung naabot ng paningin nila, maikli lang po,” she said.
The PCG said it is not stopping its search and rescue operations for Robredo and his companions.
"We are not stopping our search and rescue operations even tonight. We have about 10 to 12 motor bancas in the area scouring for the ill-fated plane. Our divers from Legazpi are on the way to get there in Masbate tomorrow. Our search and rescue vessel from Cebu will depart tonight to get there tomorrow at around 9 am,” said Lt. Commander Algier Ricafrente.
US sends help
The US government joined search and rescue operations for Robredo and his companions, Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas said.
Roxas, said the Philippine government accepted an offer made by US Naval Attache Capt. Jack Sutherland.
A US Fleet Survey team from Cavite was deployed to the crash site.