Robredo’s plane crashes

By Christina Mendez – A private plane carrying Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and his aide crashed off Masbate yesterday.

Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas II said Robredo was on board the light plane, a Piper Seneca, on his way to Naga City in Camarines Sur when they decided to make an emergency landing in Masbate due to mechanical trouble.

Initial reports said Robredo’s police aide de camp Senior Inspector Jun Abrazado had been rescued from the crash area, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Roxas, however, could not confirm the status of Robredo.

“From Cebu, he was supposed to go home in Naga but the plane was unable to land, so they diverted to Masbate,” Roxas said.

“The private plane crashed into the waters one kilometer off Masbate… The Coast Guard and other operatives have been deployed there to do the search as we speak,” he added.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome said Abrazado was rescued by fishermen who saw the plane already on its descent.

Bartolome said that based on the statements of Abrazado, the plane was about 30 minutes away from Cebu City when it encountered a problem.

Bartolome said the pilots then decided to make an emergency landing at the Masbate City airport but it missed the runway and crashed into the sea.

“The plane did not make it. They were about 300 meters away from the airport when the plane fell,” Bartolome said.

Abrazado confirmed that Robredo and the two pilots were inside the plane when it crashed. One of the pilots was identified as Jessup Bahinting of Cebu-based Aviator Air.

According to Abrazado, one of the plane’s wings broke when they were about 100 feet from the ground.

He said he was seated near the door when the plane fell, allowing him to escape.

Rescue authorities, however, suspended the search and rescue operation at around 7:30 p.m.

But Masbate City Mayor Socrates Tuason told GMA-7 that efforts were still ongoing as of last night to search for Robredo and the two pilots.

Regional disaster management chief Darius Tuazon said that although the search and rescue was suspended, they would not leave and would continue to patrol the area for possible sighting of the plane and survivors.

Tuazon said the area where the plane had crashed was about 150 feet deep.

The crash site, according to Army 9th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Julian Bacatan whose unit is based in Masbate, is about 500 meters away from the shoreline of Barangay Ibingay, Masbate City.

He said the exact location of the doomed aircraft has been pinpointed but divers have yet to go down to see if there were any survivors.

“Rescuers are still trying to retrieve the plane with its three remaining passengers,” Bacatan said.

Coast Guard commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan said they would continue the search and rescue operation all through the night.

“We have about 10 to 12 motor bancas in the area scouring for the ill-fated plane,” he said.

The Navy, on the other hand, has deployed two ships and a team of Naval Special Operations Group to conduct underwater and surface search and rescue operations in the area.

Bartolome earlier said the search and rescue operation was being headed by Masbate deputy provincial director Superintendent Jeffrey Fernandez.

Coast Guard-Bicol District commander Commodore Joel Garcia said the plane crashed at around 5:15 p.m.

He said Abrazado was rescued and brought to the Ospital ng Masbate for treatment while divers were deployed at the wreckage.

Malacañang issued a statement confirming the search and rescue operation for Robredo and his party.

“We ask the Filipino people to join the President and the Cabinet in prayer for his successful rescue. We ask that the efforts be allowed to continue unimpeded and without speculation on the part of the public. We must remain focused on the task: to find Secretary Robredo and his companions, and to bring them to safety,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

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