Ilagan hunters and farmers join search for missing Cessna 206 in Isabela

Jacque Manabat, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 10 2023 05:27 PM

MANILA -- The search for the missing Cessna 206 has become a full-blown community effort, with local farmers and hunters extending their help, using their expertise in navigating the Sierra Madre. 

The First Isabela Provincial Mobile Force Company members now rely on those living inside the Sierra Madre in their search operations. Despite being already outside the initial target location of the Cessna 206, the team believes that the statements of the farmers and hunters should be considered.

Their troops are still scouring the forests, ravines, and cliffs of Mount Moises, following the information they gathered on the ground.

Traversing the mountains of Sierra Madre is no easy feat for the search and rescue teams. Despite having extensive police and military training, some searchers are deterred by the unpredictable weather and the rugged mountain slopes. 

Batong Labang Barangay Captain Aldrich Tindungan has asked for help from his constituents and said it was easy to convince the hunters and farmers to join the search. 

On Thursday, it took ten men living in Batong Labang only half a day to carry more than 50 kilos of food to the troops camping for days inside Sierra Madre.

“Yung iba-ibang baranggay po nagtutulungan na po kung saan-saan na kami kumuha. Mga 25 sila. Kaming mga taga Batong Labang kabisado yang (bundok) Marami po ang nagboluntayo… Naawa din po sa mga nandun na nag-crash. Nandun na po sila po yung nakakita (ng usok).” Tindungan said.

(The other barangays are helping too; we are getting help from everywhere. There are about 25 of them. We in Batong Labang already know the mountain well. Many have volunteered...they are pitying the crash victims, especially those who saw the smoke.)

Ogie Piedemonte, one of the farmers who saw the unusual upward smoke, joined the aerial search last Monday. He remembered getting disoriented when he was flown using the choppers of the Philippine Air Force last Monday. He said they know the grounds better than looking at it from the skies.

“Nilipad kami diyan. Kapag inilipad ka diyan talagang mawawala ka pala. Kapag hindi ka sanay. First time ko sumakay sa helicopter siyempre nandyan ka sa ibabaw hindi mo na alam yung tatandaan mo," he said.

(We were flown over the area. If they fly you you'll really get confused and disoriented. It was my firs time in a helicopter--when you're above, of course you won't remember the important parts of the land from down below.)

Piedemonte and the other farmers plan to join the ground search teams as soon as their harvested cassava dries.

“Sabi ng mga kasama ko… matapos lang namin 'to sa pagbibiliad ng kamoteng kahoy aakyat kami ulit,” he said.

(My companions said...that as soon as they harvest their dried cassava, they'll come back up again.)

The relatives of the passengers are grateful for the efforts of the hunters and the farmers of Sierra Madre. 

Some of them are on their way to Cauayan, Isabela, today Friday -- where the Isabela Incident Management Team is based and where all reports from the search teams are collated -- to bring the used clothes of the passengers aboard the missing Cessna 206.

The Isabela Incident Management Team will use these clothes in finding the passengers, with the help of 6 trained scent-tracking dogs and their 12 handlers from Sto. Tomas, Batangas that will be deployed to the search sites as soon as possible.

“Wag po silang sumuko, yung mga posiblidad po na pwedeng makapag-turo sa mga mahal namin sa buhay, kung saan po kung nasaan sila, wag naman po nila i-ignore sana naman po makinig sila sa mga tao na nagbibigay ng mga statement," said Marly Lacerna.

(I hope they don't give up, there's always the possible that someone can point our loved ones to them. I hope they don't ignore people giving statements.)

"Para kahit papaano ay maisa-isa matunton sila kung nasaan sila kasi ang tagal na two weeks na mahigit wala pa ring magandang update. Sana bago matapos ang buong buwan na ito sana matapos na at makauwi na sila sa amin,” she added.

(That way, they can trace our relatives one by one. It's been two weeks and there's still no positive development. We hope our relatives can come home with us by the end of the month.)
“Ang plano namin maghihintay pa rin kami makauwi sila,” Lacerna added.

The search team said they would continue to search for the missing plane as soon as there are resources and until assistance is extended to them.