Divers find debris where Robredo plane crashed

by Jojo Malig, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Aug 20 2012 07:19 PM | Updated as of Aug 21 2012 04:12 PM

Photo courtesy of Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas on Twitter [@MARoxas]


MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Navy and civilian divers have found on the seabed parts of what could be the aircraft carrying Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and three other people that crashed Saturday off Masbate, Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas said Monday night.

Roxas said one member of a 3-person foreign diving team who is helping in search and rescue operations found a debris field around 180-210 feet underwater and roughly 2.5 kilometers from the shore.

Video footage taken by one of the divers shows a piece of debris on the seabed.

"Pic of debris found roughly 200 ft 2.5 km frm shore," Roxas said on Twitter.

He said a 4-man team of Navy technical divers confirmed the debris field is same area found by a civilian diver.

"[They found] glass pieces of cockpit. They marked it," Roxas said.

In a press briefing, Roxas said it is still too early to conclude that the debris is indeed from the ill-fated Piper Seneca plane, which carried Robredo, pilots Jessup Bahinting and Kshitiz Chand, and the interior secretary's aide Jun Abrazado.

Only Abrazado so far survived the crash.

"'Di masabing galing o hindi sa eroplano [ iyung debris]," Roxas said.

Video footage analysis

Col. Felix Castro, operations officer of Task Force Kalihim undertaking the search and rescue operations, said the video footage taken by the divers still has to be analyzed.

"May navideohan silang area na may mga debris pero maliliit lang," he said. "Hindi masyadong conclusive."

"Iyung Navy team may na-recover na window glass parang sa plane pero ide-determine pa ngayon, ia-assess kung part ba siya ng nung missing, ia-assess talaga. Hindi naman tayo makapag-conclude basta," Castro explained.

He said more dives, aerieal search, and sonar sweeps will be made in the area to ensure that no spot is missed.

"Para siguruduhin na wala tayong namimintisan," he said.

Castro said authorities can't say yet if the aircraft disintegrated when it hit the sea.

"Hindi natin masabing ganun kasi iyung sabi ng mga witness kasi nung nag-crash siya, medyo may mga tao sa baybay, sabi nila lumutang pa siya for a few seconds bago lumubog," he said.

"Except for may right wing pit na narecover but generally nung bumaba, hindi siya nagdisintegrate," he added.

"Iyung nakita kanina, kailangan nating i-analyze ng husto. Hindi naman nag-disintegrate yung eroplano but iyung nakita sa baba e medyo mga maliliit na fragments so titingnan natin ng husto," Castro said.

No signs yet of Robredo, 2 pilots

He said surface and underwater search has yet to turn up signs of the missing Robredo and the 2 pilots.

"wala, walang ano eh. Atsaka iyung big parts ng airplane wala pang nakita. Kung sakali man, that's why we'll have to continue with the search and rescue operation tomorrow," he said.

Underwater dives were suspended as night fell in Masbate.

"Ngayon medyo madilim na, although kanina may nag-dive, nasa dagat pa iyun hindi pa nakabalik. But nahinto medyo madilim na dito," he said.

Special Forces divers

Castro said divers from a 29-member Army Special Forces Regiment team arrived in the area Monday afternoon to help in the search and rescue operations.

They will reinforce Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, and police personnel under the multi-agency Task Force Kalihim.

At least 400 divers and personnel, several ships, aircraft and sonar equipment are being used in the search, Castro said.

"There are almost 400 personnel directly involved. This does not include the support personnel on the ground. Today, additional divers from the Special Forces arrived because other divers have to rest. They cannot dive all day. We have a lot of divers, (working) on a rotation basis," he said.

"Hopefully, we'll have a additional sonar that has a better capability so that we can better observe what's below," he added.

He said divers are focusing on a deeper area of the sea that requires special equipment.

"We narrowed down the search where we recovered the paper [flight plan]. We are focusing in one area, we have sent sonar (to the place) while aircraft are searching the seashores, the shorelines," he said.

He said the sea current in the area may have caused the aircraft's wreckage to move underwater.

Castro reiterated that they are still a search and rescue mission, as there is no clear evidence yet that Robredo and the 2 pilots are already dead.

Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said the military is focused on rescuing Robredo and his companions.

"We will join the whole nation in prayers that Secretary Robredo is safe. Our soldiers will do their best to bring them home," Cabunoc quoted Army chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista as saying.