Location transmitter of Robredo plane 'failed to function' during crash

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Friday, August 24, 2012

MANILA (Updated) -- Authorities had a hard time locating the wreckage of the plane carrying Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo because its emergency location transmitter (ELT) failed to function on impact.

Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) Director General William Hotchkiss III said that prior to the accident, the Piper Seneca plane's ELT was functioning well when his office conducted regular routine check.

An ELT is a plane device that automatically activates when a plane encounters emergency landing or any disaster. Caap last checked the plane's ELT on November 21, 2011, and is valid for operation within a year.

"It is too early to speculate. Our investigating team is still examining the plane wreckage to determine the cause of the accident," Hotchkiss said.

The ELT was found with the plane wreckage last Wednesday but the right engine of the plane is yet to be recovered.

The three-man Aircraft Accident Investigation and Inquiry Board (AAIIB) investigating team of Caap started its inspection on the plane immediately after the bodies of Robredo and pilots Captain Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese Kshitiz Chand were recovered off Masbate.

The plane crashed last August 18, some 800 meters from Masbate shoreline, due to engine failure. Only Robredo’s aide, Police Senior Inspector Jun Abrazado, survived in the accident.

Robredo's remains, as well as the plane wreckage were found at a depth of 150 meters.

The plane wreckage is now under tight security at Masbate airport, Hotchkiss said, adding that search and retrieval of the plane engine is ongoing.

"The engine is a key part of our investigation. This will determine if indeed it was due to technical or mechanical problem that caused it to fail," he added.

He also dismissed speculations that diluted aviation fuel was used by the plane that caused the fatal crash. He said premature conjectures like this will not help Caap's investigation.

The former elite fighter jet pilot added that part of their investigation is to check the fuel used in the engine and trace where the plane last refueled prior to its flight from Cebu to Naga City.

The AAIIB is also reconstructing the flight path of the ill-fated plane including communication between control towers and the pilot. Caap has also taken the statements of key witnesses and will issue subpoena to others to shed light on the incident.

“It will not be an easy investigation, but as directed by (Transportation) Secretary (Mar) Roxas, we will not leave any stone unturned to find out the real cause of the accident,” Hotchkiss said.

He said Caap will look into the unsafe practices of aviation firms that enable them in the past to continue operating in spite of getting involved in previous plane accidents.

Hours after the accident last Saturday, Roxas immediately directed Caap to dispatch a Go Team composed of aviation experts to conduct investigation of the incident. He also ordered the suspension of Aviatour Air, the operator of the Piper Seneca plane.

Caap also formed a composite team last Wednesday to serve as AAIIB headed by Captain Amado Soliman, an aviation industry expert in flight safety for over four decades, Captain Ramon Flores, and Captain Elmer Pena. (SDR/Sunnex)

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