Gov't, civilians join forces in search for Robredo

By Dharel Placido,

Posted at Aug 20 2012 07:25 AM | Updated as of Aug 20 2012 10:49 PM

Briefing of Task Force Kalihim (Search and Rescue Ops for Sec Robredo) by Maj. Gen. Eduardo del Rosario. Photo courtesy of President Aquino's official Facebook account

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Government forces, as well as local and foreign civilians are working together to locate missing Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and two pilots.

A technical diving team from Malapascua Island, composed of three foreigners, went into the water at 1 p.m. Transportation and Communications Secretary Mar Roxas II said the rescuers are still on "search and rescue" mode.

The civilian volunteers, members of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, are also joined by divers from the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard.

Rescuers are expected to dive some 250 to 300-feet deep of water today.

"Technical dive na ito, ang recreational diving ay 100 to 120 feet lang 'yan and makaka-stay lang 10 minutes. Ang target depth ngayon dito is about 200 feet na hanggang 250," Roxas told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda.

The team was equipped with trimix, a breathing gas that will aid rescuers in diving deeper. A recompression chamber is also on standby in case a diver suffers from nitrogen narcosis as a result of diving too deep.

The focus of today's search will be in the area where the manifest was found on Sunday afternoon. This was also the near the area where Robredo’s aide, Jun Abrazado, was found after their plane crashed on Saturday.

US helps

A United States aircraft earlier conducted a flyby over the seas of Masbate to search for the missing Cabinet official and his two companions.

Roxas said the US aircraft is equipped with "forward looking infrared" (FLIR) camera to search for the ill-fated plane that carried Robredo.

"Sonars work last night to be plotted for todays search pattern," Roxas said on his Twitter account.

"US plane with FLIR, forward looking infra red, also did flyby passes," he added.

So far only the manifest and a wing portion of the Piper Seneca have been found, although Roxas said the sonar equipment has detected several “things” further below but that “its shape and material could not yet be determined.”

The unknown objects have been tracked 200 feet below sea level, which could be identified via the help of the divers.

Roxas said divers saw some marks on the seafloor near the area where the manifest was found.

"Parang kinayod na seafloor, papalalim. Ang estimate nila is another 200 to 250 feet," he said.

The Philippine Air Force, likewise, has sent eight of its helicopters to conduct aerial search, according to President Aquino in his official Twitter account.

Besides Robredo, authorities are also looking for the plane’s pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese co-pilot Kshitiz Chand.

The Philippine Coast Guard in Ticao Island is also on the lookout in case Robredo got swept in the area.

President Aquino stayed overnight in Masbate, to wait for a significant development in the search for his Cabinet member.

Roxas said Aquino is not losing hope that Robredo will be found alive.

"Very determined, hopeful pa din ang pangulo. Sabi niya, 'Mar, search and rescue pa din ito,'" he said.

Family hopeful, but realistic

Robredo's eldest daughter, Aika, said her family remains hopeful that her father will return safely to them, and yet they understand there are realities to face.

Aika said her family is being "realistic" at this point when search and rescue operations, which have entered the third day today, are still not yielding any significant results.

"Hopeful pa din pero lahat kasi kami, siyempre mahirap na umasa ka ng umasa, so may management of expectations din kami, pero sa ngayon tuloy pa din ang dasal," Aika told reporters in front of their house in Naga City.

"Kaming apat (mother Maria Leonor Gerona-Robredo and siblings Patricia and Jillian Therese), pare-pareho kami ng nararamdaman ngayon na umaasa pa din, pero realistic, kasi pangatlong araw na nawawala siya, sana by lunch time may definite kaming balita," she added.

Aika also thanked those who have been giving continuous support for the family in these trying times.

"Kahit malungkot kami ngayon, kasi mahirap mag-antay, nakakatulong na ang iba ay nakikita namin na ganoon ang sentiments. Nakakagaan siya ng loob," she said.

Aika also thanked President Aquino for overseeing the rescue operations in Masbate and the Cabinet officials as well, especially Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman who has been with the family since yesterday.

She revealed that she last talked to her father on Friday, a day before the incident. Her father was on his way to Naga to celebrate the win of Jillian in a swimming competition.

Aika, however, declined to give the details of their conversation. - with reports from Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News; and Edwin Sevidal, dzMM