Divers lift out plane’s debris

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Monday, August 20, 2012


A WING and a flight manifest containing the name of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo were found yesterday near the site where his six-seater plane crashed, but there were no signs of Robredo and two pilots.

In Cebu, the company that operates the Piper Seneca (RPC-4431) suspended operations without waiting for a government order, to make sure its aircraft can be inspected, an official said.

“We remain hopeful that Secretary Robredo was just carried by the current... and that he will be found,” Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II said, adding that President Benigno Aquino III is “very emotionally attached to Jesse and he is doing everything he can.”

The President flew yesterday morning to Masbate, where military divers and helicopters were scouring the area for Robredo and the two pilots.

Special sonar equipment was flown to Masbate to help in the search operation after some debris, including one wing of the missing plane, was recovered.

In Cebu, an official of Aviatour Fly’n Inc. said that it was Robredo who requested the company’s CEO, Capt. Jessup Bahinting, to fly the Piper Seneca.

Capt. Antonio Jureidini, director of the flight school, training and safety, said that when Secretary Robredo arrived at their office last Saturday afternoon, he told Bahinting that he wanted to take a chartered flight home to Naga City in Bicol to save time.

In Masbate, local fishermen helped the police and soldiers search for the three persons and the plane’s wreckage.

“The problem in the search and rescue is that the sea is about 300 feet deep, with strong water current. The manifest was found by divers about 160 feet below sea level,” said Merien Esber, the public information officer of the Masbate Provincial Government.

Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (Penro) Edgar de Lara joined the divers in the search and rescue operation, she added.

Search

Their command post at La Sala Resort in Masbate City, she added, is only 50 meters away from the crash site. The crash site itself lies about 500 meters away from the airport.

Authorities suspended at nightfall the dive operations off Masbate, but “surface search and rescue will continue all night,” Roxas said via Twitter.

“The current is quite strong at the Ticao channel. We will continue the dive operations tomorrow (today),” he added.

The flight manifest containing the names of Robredo, his aide Insp. Jun Abrazado and the two pilots was found near the crash site.

A wing of the aircraft with the number 431 was also recovered, Roxas said on his Twitter account.

Masbate Vice Mayor Allan Cos later told ABS-CBN that an object, which might be the wreckage, had been spotted some 200 meters (660 feet) underwater but it was too deep for divers to reach.

The government called a prayer vigil at a Roman Catholic chapel in Manila for the 54-year-old Cabinet member, a father of three daughters and a former city mayor who had won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for governance.

Blacked out

Robredo’s aide, Insp. Jun Abrazado, was rescued Saturday and is now recovering in a hospital in Masbate.

He told President Aquino, who personally checked on his condition yesterday, that he made sure Secretary Robredo’s seatbelt was fastened when they realized they would have to make an emergency landing.

“Tapos yun na nga, tumama na sila sa tubig at nawalan siya ng malay. Tumama yung ulo niya sa upuan sa harap niya, may punit nga yung labi niya (He hit his head on the seat in front of him when they crashed, and he blacked out. There’s a cut on his lip),” Roxas said in a radio interview.

When Abrazado regained consciousness, Roxas said, the water inside the cabin was already chest-deep and he could not find Secretary Robredo, who had sat beside him.

The policeman then swam out of the aircraft.

It was Abrazado who reported the accident Saturday and went to the area to pinpoint where exactly the crash happened.

Minutes before the crash, he had informed some police officials in Cebu that they were heading back to Mactan, after encountering engine trouble.

Sympathy

Robredo was supposed to take a commercial flight after two official engagements in Cebu last Saturday, but for reasons known only to him, changed his mind and decided to charter a small plane.

At first, Bahinting told Robredo that another pilot would fly him to Naga City because he (Bahinting) was planning to visit a project in Ginatilan, Cebu.

But Robredo, said Aviatour’s Jureidini, requested Bahinting to fly the plane himself.

They took off for Naga City at 3:06 p.m., said Alain Tapusoc, supervisor of the Mactan Control Tower.

They crashed off Masbate while attempting an emergency landing about 4:20 p.m.

Most of the pilots and personnel of Aviatour gathered at their office yesterday to sympathize with the family of Bahinting, the company’s board chairman and chief executive officer.

The company, without waiting for a government order, also suspended its operations for a total inspection, Jureidini said.

Bahinting’s daughter Sarah is now in Masbate to monitor the search and rescue operation, while his wife waits for news at their home in Talisay City, he added.

Bahinting’s son, also a pilot, is in the United States managing a flying school.

His baby

Jureidini has known Bahinting for nearly four decades.

“The flying school started in 1996 with one aircraft and one instructor, and he hired me as the instructor. I am proud to say that most of our student pilots in the past years are now with the different airline companies with the rank of captain,” said Jureidini, also a stockholder of Aviatour.

He said that Bahinting was a sought-after pilot among friends, business owners, senators and even foreign dignitaries.

The Piper Seneca was “his baby”, which the company acquired in 2000. It was properly maintained, following the TBO (time before overhaul) required by the aircraft manufacturer, said Jureidini.

It was also subjected to mandatory repair for every 100 hours of flight operations and an oil change after every 50 hours, Jureidini said.

Based on its records, the Piper Seneca was issued a certificate of registration on Oct. 4, 2011, which will expire on Oct. 3, 2012 yet. Its certification of airworthiness is valid until Jan. 7, 2013.

It was Aviatour’s second accident since March 4, 2012, when its Cessna plane hit coconut trees near Camiguin airport. That accident killed a Norwegian national and the pilot, and injured three others. (Sunnex/AFP/With PNA)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 20, 2012.

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