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The CESSNA plane crash tragedy: Rescuers near crash site pray for positive result

Responders climb Mayon to retrieve bodies of victims

By Sally A. Altea and Connie Calipay

LEGAZPI CITY --- The search and rescue team for the missing Cessna passengers is about 900 meters or 0.9 kilometer from the crash site yet they have to move with extreme caution as the area is highly critical and dangerous.

Camalig Mayor “Caloy” Baldo Jr, who is also the search and rescue operations ground commander, said they are hoping for a positive result this afternoon.

“We are expediting the operation but the terrain situation is difficult. Hopefully there will be a positive result by this afternoon and be able to reach the site (Minamadali na natin pero mahirap ang situation sa terrain. Hopefully may positive result na by this afternoon at marating na talaga ang site)”, Baldo said.

With the urgency of locating the four passengers, Baldo said the responders currently trekking the area will be staying overnight but noted that they are flexible in the execution of plans to ensure safety of the rescuers.

The team is also awaiting the result of the aerial search this morning using a Philippine Navy aircraft equipped with a thermal scanner to determine the possibility of life onsite.

Two teams are trekking to the crash site comprised of 28 responders – six from the Bureau of Fire Protection – Special Rescue Force, nine expert mountaineers, eight from the

Energy Development Corporation, three from the Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) and two local guides.

Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) spokesperson Eric Apolonio has confirmed in a press statement on Tuesday that the photos of plane wreckage is part of the missing plane.

The wreckage was located on Sunday at about 6,500 feet above sea level, just 350 meters away from the Mayon Volcano’s crater which is currently under alert level 2.

Full responsibility amidst risks and hazards

At the press conference this morning, Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO) Chief Cedric Daep described the critical crash site as a gully on a steep terrain with big volcanic rocks and loose materials that may be unsafe to step on. Thus, the need for trained and expert responders.

“The difficult task here is that the aviation accident side is actually on the critical area under alert level two, [which is] about 350 to 450 meters away from the crater. This is the challenge,” Daep said.

Daep said they are in close coordination with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) for parameters on the activities of the volcano to determine the possibility of an eruption, rock and ash fall or flooding, noting that the responders are prepared and trained to respond to these possibilities.

“The provincial government is in full support to this intenified search and rescue operation because we cannot prolong the agony of the situation. We will not give-up until we cannot find (the passengers). That’s why we are expediting this while the weather is good. (Wala nang atrasan, hindi babalik hanggang hindi nakukuha at mission accomplished. Kaya minamadali na natin habang madali ang panahon),” Daep said.

He noted that the provincial government takes full responsibility for whatever outcomes or obligations that may arise from this operations.

The Cessna RP-C2080 was reported missing on February 18, Saturday. Onboard are pilot Capt. Rufino James Crisostomo Jr., mechanic Joel Martin, and two Australian passengers, Simon Chipperfield and Kathri Santanan. They are all connected to the EDC.

As reported by the CAAP Area 5, the plane departed for Metro Manila the Bicol Internation Airport (BIA) in Albay at 6:43AM. Last contact is at 6:48AM as it passed over Camalig Cement Plant in barangay Palanog for instructions to report after they went beyond 20 miles of the BIA. Since then, he plane remained unresponsive. (SAA/PIA5/Albay)

Passengers of ill-fated plane

The bodies of the four passengers and the debris of the ill-fated Cessna plane which crashed near the Mayon Volcano’s crater on Feb. 18 were already verified and documented but the retrieval team temporarily suspended operations on Thursday due to the loose soil and the fogginess in the area.

At 1:50 p.m., responders led by team leaders from the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) and Search and Rescue Force (SRF) touched down at the crash site, according to the Facebook post of Camalig Mayor Carlos Irwin Baldo Jr.

Baldo, the incident commander, in an earlier press conference on the same day, confirmed that they have shifted from rescue to retrieval operation upon receiving information and photos confirming the bodies of passengers, including the pilot, Capt. Rufino James T. Crisostomo Jr., the mechanic Joel G. Martin, and two Australian passengers, Simon Chipperfield and Karthi Santhanam.

The shift was made after a five-day full-blast search and rescue operations by the incident command center.

“Nakita na po ung site, wala na pong buhay doon, kaya nasa retrieval operation na po tayo. Sana matapos din ngayon araw, at ang family nag-aantay na din. Kahit napuntahan na po un, hindi ganon kadali ibaba...kasi nakita naman natin kung gaano kahirap ang terrain, ang hirap ng pinag daraanan ng mga nagre-retrieve doon sa taas. (The site has been seen, there is no life there, so we are in a retrieval operation. I hope the day ends today, and the family is also waiting. Even though we’ve been there, it’s not that easy to get down... because we saw how difficult the terrain is, the hardships of those who retrieved up there),” Baldo added.

“Rescue teams have kept up their retrieval operations yet are still unsure of when and where exactly the cadavers can be safely dropped off due to Mayon’s tricky terrain,” he said.

Daep said earlier that they will mobilize another batch of responders to back up the 28-man team that first approached the crash site to complete the mission.

Daep also confirmed that the immediate family members of the passengers, including the two Australian nationals, were informed about the status of the retrieval operation.

He added that the manner of retrieval still considered several factors, including the weather, the Mayon situation, and the pacing of the responders.

“With the full support of the EDC, hindi tayo pinapabayaan, all throughout, full force, full support sila sa lahat ng resources including vehicles and the needs of the rescuers. (With the full support of the EDC, all throughout, full force, full support them in all resources including vehicles and the needs of the rescuers),” he said.

“We mourn the confirmed passing of our dear colleagues, Captain Rufino James Crisostomo Jr., Joel G Martin, Simon Chipperfield, and Karthi Santhanam, who were on board the Aircraft RP-C-2080 that was reported missing early Saturday morning shortly after taking off from the Bicol International Airport,” Richard B. Tantoco, President and Chief Operating Officer of EDC, said in a statement.

Mt. Mayon climb

Additional responders began to climb Mt. Mayon on Tuesday to help bring down the remains of the four passengers of a Cessna plane that crashed near the volcano’s crater on Feb. 18.

At 5 a.m., fresh batches of responders, totaling 62, started their trek, Camalig Mayor and Incident Commander Carlos Irwin Baldo Jr. said in a social media post.

Baldo said the incident management team (IMT) directed the deployment of additional manpower as exhaustion eventually caught up with the initial team atop the slopes of Mayon volcano.

“The IMT still eyes to seek support from the air assets/helicopters if the skies clear. Helicopters are not advised to fly and hover above priority areas due to the unfavorable weather, which presently causes limited to zero visibility,” he said.

Baldo also advised the team to cautiously carry out the operations to avoid injuries as responders are currently facing difficulties brought on by the situation.

There is much difficulty in rope management “because of the volcano’s high-angle slopes,” he noted. “The Incident Management Team proposed 20 personnel per body as one of their alternative measures to relay down the bodies for 200 to 300 meters and will be hoisted as the team locates a safe landing zone.”

Tim Florece, Camalig spokesperson, said in an interview that the teams are currently toning down their movement due to the risks posed by the volcano’s terrain and the windy weather caused by the northeast monsoon.

“The 62 responders are currently on standby at the forest ranger station (FRS). So far, they are 93 responders in the FRS today because of strong winds, loose soil, steep slopes, and zero visibility,” Florece said.

He added that since day one of the operations, almost 700 responders from different government agencies, organizations, and groups have checked in at the command center. (PNA)


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