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Near Mt. Mayon’s crater, 15 rescuers dropped to find 4 survivors

By Rhaydz B. Barcia

Despite unfavorable weather conditions

LEGAZPI CITY --- As the clock ticks down to find the four missing passengers of Cessna plane that went down near the crater of Mayon Volcano on Saturday, disaster officials in Albay launched an aerial insertion mission on Tuesday and dropped 15 rescuers near the crater despite unfavorable weather conditions here.

Cedric Daep, chief of Albay Public Safety Emergency Management Office (Apsemo) said that the Philippine Air Force helicopters were able to drop members of the Bureau of Fire Protection Special Rescue Forces at 4,000 feet above the sea level.

“We are ready from air to ground search and rescue efforts. Today, we’ve launched the aerial operation. This morning, the air assets of the Philippine Air Force were able to fly and dropped rescuers. The drop off point is 4,000 feet and they will climb heading to the crash site where the fuselage of a Cessna plane is spotted. They’re ready for camping but our first priority is the protection of the responders,” said Daep, noting that 32 other members of the search and rescue teams are trying to reach the crash site by foot.

This developed as the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) confirmed that its Aircraft Accident Investigation and Inquiry Board (AAIIB) personnel has positively identified the plane’s wreckage using a high resolution camera amid weather disturbances.

“As of now, the condition of the crew and passengers are not yet known as the exact site has not yet been reached by the SAR (search and rescue) team due to bad weather,” the CAAP said in a Viber message.

CAAP said the wreckage site is located at the west side slope of Mayon Volcano at the elevation of 3,500 to 4,000 feet.

Daep, meanwhile, said that they are expediting the search and rescue mission in a quest to save the lives of possible survivors.

The Cessna plane with registry number RP-C2080 owned by the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) took off at Bicol International Airport on Saturday, February 18, at 6:43 a.m. and crashed shortly after.

The aircraft was piloted by Capt. Rufino James Crisostomo Jr. With him on the plane were Joel Martin, an aircraft mechanic, and Engineers Simon Chipperfield and Karthi Santanan, technical consultants of EDC.

After 72 hours of search and rescue efforts by the rescuers from the government, Philippine Red Cross and volunteers, no single person was found among the four missing passengers.

Confusing and conflicting government guidelines according to the rescuers affected to expedite the rescue mission as they aborted twice when they were about a few kilometers away from the crash site.

The rescue mission was called a ‘kiss of death’ due to the tricky trails, unstable volcanic materials, unfavorable weather situation, steep elevation and cold atmosphere encompassing the restive volcano.

“We are hoping for the best. We’re not discounting the possibilities to find survivors. The staging point was established within the proximity of the crash site so our rescuers can proceed to the crash site in the quickest time,” he said.

Albay Governor Edcel Grex Lagman, meanwhile, has ordered a full-blast search and rescue operation.

Lagman said the province cannot afford to prolong the agony not only of the families of the missing passengers but also of the rescuers and volunteers.

Lagman also expressed dismay for CAAP’s protocol as it needs to get clearance from Manila to be exempted from the no entry policy of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) within the six-kilometer permanent danger zone of the restive volcano.

“We cannot be prevented by democratic impasse. Phivolcs prohibition of no entry to the danger zone is the guidelines issued then by governor Noel Rosal. I’m also sad because CAAP don’t want to be interviewed and need to take a course through it to Manila. We will take full responsibility because we need to save lives through search and rescue,” the governor said in an interview with DZGB.

The province also commits its full support to fast-track the search and rescue, especially now that it is on its fourth day of operation, he said in a statement.

“The province remains committed 100 percent sa pagbibigay ng support na pwede naming maibigay to the best of our ability and capacity,” Lagman said. (The province remains committed 100 percent to give support whatever we can to the best of our ability and capacity.)

Phivolcs Director Dr. Teresito Bacolcol earlier stressed that the current situation happening in Albay is extraordinary. It is a race against time and a matter of life and death, that is they are allowing the rescue operation to proceed with precautions and as long as it is coordinated with the local government unit.

(This article is culled from The Manila Times. Ms. Rhaydz Barcia is both a Manila Times and Bicol Mail reporter. Editor.)


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