Saturday, August 18, 2012

Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II, Aviatour Fly'In, RP-C4431: Accident occurred August 18, 2012 off Masbate - Philippines

(AP Photo/Philippine Red Cross Masbate) 

This Aug. 19, 2012 photo released by the Philippine Red Cross Masbate shows part of a plane carrying Philippine Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo as it lies on a boat after being recovered near the crash site off Masbate city, about 380 kilometers (235 miles) southwest of Manila, Philippines Sunday Aug. 19, 2012. The small plane carrying 4 persons crashed into the sea Saturday while attempting an emergency landing. One person was rescued but Robredo and the two pilots are still missing, officials said.
 (AP Photo/Philippine Red Cross Masbate) NO SALES 

 MANILA, Philippines — The wreckage of the ill-fated twin engine Piper Seneca, which carried Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and with Registry No. RPC 4431, has not been found, as of Sunday evening.

“No sightings, so far,” said Transportation and Communication Secretary Mar Roxas, the Palace-designated spokesperson for the search and rescue operations for the missing Robredo and the two pilots of the ill-fated plane that crashed off the coast of Masbate City before dusk Saturday.

Only the right wing of the twin-engine plane has been recovered, but divers have not yet located the aircraft believed to be 130-131 feet underwater.

At about 3 p.m. Sunday, a team from the Masbate Bantay-Dagat relayed an initial report to Masbate City Mayor Socrates Tuason and Police Superintendent Rodolfo Abella, the city chief of police, that a large object had been detected lying on the seabed.

But when the Philippine Daily Inquirer sought a confirmation from Roxas by phone, he replied:

“Nothing yet. Some underwater, seabed disturbances of indeterminate origin indicated by sonar.”

Roxas said that the divers were still scouring an area of 40-80 meters.

The crash site is about 200 meters from the tip of the runway of the Masbate airport, the only airstrip servicing all 21 towns of the island-province of Masbate.

Roxas said that divers from the Philippine Coast Guard, Navy Special Operations Group and Philippine National Police have been using Trimix or Nitrox blend (a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen), which extended the dive/bottom time of divers, compared to using the usual compressed air.

It was Abella who became the ground commander at the initial phase of search and rescue operations ordered by Mayor Tuason, before the provincial command took over Saturday.

The President himself became the ground commander when he arrived early Sunday to personally oversee the Robredo search.

Roxas described the search and rescue efforts as “air, surface and underwater” operations.

The President was accompanied by Roxas, defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Philippine National Police Chief Nicanor Bartolome, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Representative Jun Abaya, the president of the ruling Liberal Party (LP).

“Throughout the night, search and rescue operations for Secretary Jesse Robredo and party continued. More assets are being deployed this morning to intensify the search,” said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, adding:

“In the meantime, the President, along with Secretaries Roxas, Abad, Gazmin and Representative Abaya flew to Masbate at 5:45 a.m. to personally observe the search and rescue effort. We will be issuing more updates as they become available.”

In an interview with Radyo ng Bayan, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said:

“The President himself is there at the command center for the search and rescue,” said Valte.

 The circumstances of plane crash were also unclear, with details

Valte said that Robredo’s aide, Chief Insp. Jun Abrazado, who survived the crash, had tried to help in the rescue operations in the first few hours following the crash, which authorities said occurred from 4:20 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Abrazado tried but failed to extricate Robredo from the plane after impact.

“I think both Secretary Robredo and Jun Abrazado were able to send (text) messages (before the crash). I think Mr. Abrazado sent it to one of his colleagues that they were having engine trouble and then Secretary Jess sent a message to his wife also on the same subject.

“But … he was not able to … he was trying, I think, to pull out Secretary Jess from the plane but, perhaps, we’ll leave it to Secretary Roxas for the finer details of the story of Jun Abrazado,” said Valte.

The President had visited Abrazado at a Masbate hospital before he was brought to Bicol mainland at noon Sunday.

“Abrazado is in the hospital right now after, I think, he lost consciousness. Because, when he was rescued, they found out that he had a fractured arm. But Jun Abrazado had insisted on going back to the site to help in the search and rescue for Secretary Jess and the other two pilots. So now he is under observation, and the President is back at the center of the site to oversee the search and rescue that is ongoing,” said Valte.

Search and rescue operations of the Masbate City Bantay Dagat under Mayor Tuason and Police Supt. Gonzalo Villamor, the provincial deputy director for operations, were underway when the Inquirer contacted Tuason and Governor Rizalina Seachon-Lanete—at 6 p.m. Saturday.

According to Tuason, witnesses saw the plane trying to land on the tarmac of the Masbate airport at about 4:20 p.m. However, the plane suddenly plunged into the waters about 200 meters from the shore.

The crash was witnessed by Masbateños who were having their leisurely weekend walk at the Masbate Circumferential Road, which separates the airstrip’s northern tip from the seashore.

Aviatour Air, the Cebu-based airplane charter operator of ill-fated aircraft that carried Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo has been under investigation by the Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) for its March 2012 crash landing incident in Camiguin province that killed two passengers and injuring three others. 

Aviatour Air, a general aviation service provider, air taxi operator and charterer in the Visayas region operating at the Cebu-Mactan International Airport owned the six-seater PA-34 Piper Senica twin engine aircraft that carried Robredo that crash landed at sea on Saturday afternoon near Masbate Airport.

Since March this year, the company has been investigated after one of its chartered plane, a Cessna 172 crash landed in Mambajao, Camiguin on March 4, 2012, killing Norwegian tourist Racquel Strande and Filipino pilot Christian Cesar Cebrecus.

Racquel’s husband Lars, their three-year-old child and student pilot Nurmala Dewi survived and were injured in the crash.

The president and CEO Captain Jessup Bahinting of Aviatour Air, the pilot of the aircraft that carried Robredo, is still reportedly missing together with Nepalese co-pilot Kitis Chand.

The fourth passenger, Robredo’s aide-de-camp Police Senior Inspector Jun Abrazado survived the crash and was rescued by fishermen.

Secretary Robredo was assisted by NAIA terminal 3 public affairs division protocol officers at the VIP room while waiting for his flight to Cebu via Cebu Pacific flight 5J 553 that was scheduled to take-off for Cebu at 10:00 am.

Protocol officers who assisted Robredo told Manila Standard that the Secretary came at NAIA terminal 3 an hour ahead of his flight schedule with two aides. Robredo had coffee at the terminal VIP room and even chatted with 2 nuns who were his co-passengers for the flight.

Robredo flew in to Cebu for the Convenors of the Community Investigative Support (CIS) National Summit and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) at the Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City.

He was supposed to board his 5 p.m. Cebu Pacific flight to Manila but decided instead to proceed to Naga City to attend to some commitments.

On their way to Camarines Sur, the plane develop engine trouble.

Bahinting asked for an emergency landing at the Masbate Airport but crash landed at sea about 500 meters from the runway.

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 on the other three passengers including Robredo.

Records from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) appears that Aviatour Air is operating with a fleet of more than 35 aircrafts and a workforce of more than 70 employees, providing aerial tours and chartered flights to Tagbilaran, Bantayan and Camotes Islands, Surigao, Siargao and Masbate.

File photo of the Piper Seneca RP-C4431 plane that DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo boarded, which crashed Saturday afternoon in Masbate. A portion of the right wing was recovered Saturday night, with the numbers 431 visible. Courtesy of Aviatour Air

Photo courtesy of Philippine National Red Cross

MASBATE CITY, Philippines – The light plane wobbled for several minutes before it dropped into the sea. It then stayed in the water’s surface for about 10 minutes before it completely sank. 

This was the account of Joel Espinilla, 37, a coastal resident of Masbate City who witnessed the last few minutes before the Piper Seneca, with Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and three others on board, crashed into the waters off the city’s airport on Saturday.

Espinilla said he was playing chess on the shore with some friends at around 4:30 p.m. when they saw the small plane wobbling. The plane then went belly up before it dropped. He said they thought it would drop on the houses nearby but it went down into the water, on its side.

 “It happened very fast. The tail was bobbing up for about 10 minutes before it sank,” Espinilla said.

 He said it was low tide at that time so there were few fishermen in the area that could have helped.

So far, only one of the passengers was plucked out from the sea by passing fisherman, Chief Inspector Jun Abrazado, Robredo’s security aide. Abrazado suffered a fractured arm and had bruises all over his body.  After getting first aid, he joined the search and rescue team to help them pinpoint the crash site.

 Robredo and pilots Capt. Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese Kshitiz Chand remained missing 16 hours into the search.

 Espinilla said those on the shore who saw the plane drop wanted to help but were scared that the aircraft would explode.

 He said they only learned that it was Robredo who was on board the plane when top local officials themselves came to lead the search and rescue at around 5 p.m.

A report from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Undersecretary Benito Ramos confirmed in a report that a fuel tank was found, and that it is now with the Masbate Police.

Robredo and two others, pilot Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese flight student Kshitiz Chand are still missing, while Robredo's aide-de-camp, Police Senior Inspector Jhun Abrasado survived the crash with a fractured arm.

According to the NDRRMC, Abrasado was rescued by passing fishermen after the crash.

Abrasado joined the rescuers in the search for Robredo, Bahinting, and Chand, Communications Strategy Secretary Ricky Carandang said in an earlier report.

President Benigno Aquino III and members of his cabinet arrived at the crash site in Masbate before 7 a.m. Sunday. PNoy wil lead search-and-rescue efforts, Transportation secretary Manuel Roxas II said in an earlier report.

The President was accompanied by cabinet secretaries Voltaire Gazmin (defense) and  Florencio Abad (budget), Philippine National Police chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome, and Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa. — Carmela Lapeña /LBG, GMA news

Aviatour Air has two Piper Seneca planes in its fleet of 35+ planes. Robredo’s plane was piloted by Jessup Bahinting, the CEO of Mactan-based Aviatour Air and a flight insructor, and his student Kshitiz Chand, a Nepali. Aviatour Air

P-Noy arrives in Masbate City via a C130 flight from Villamor Airbase to check on the search and rescue efforts for DILG Sec. Jessie Robredo and company. 
Photo courtesy of

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Saturday evening, August 18, accepted help from the United States government in search and rescue operations for Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and his companions after their plane crashed off Masbate.

 The plane carrying Robredo and three others, including the pilots, crashed on its way to the Masbate airport at 4:30 p.m.

In a 9 p.m. update on Twitter, Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas said the US offered to help through US Naval Attache Captain Jack Sutherland. The US government has a fleet survey team in Cavite that is going to the crash site, Roxas said.

He said the crash site is 200 meters from the shoreline. Surface search and rescue operations are now ongoing, he added. Roxas said the diving search has resumed using compressors as rescuers have obtained compressors from the area.

A Philippine navy vessel is already at the crash site aiding the effort, according to Masbate Mayor Socrates Tuason, who is part of the local rescue team.

Search 'won't stop'

The Philippine Coast Guard confirmed that search and rescue operations will continue tonight after being temporarily suspended earlier.

Philippine Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Algier Ricafrente told ANC that nearly a dozen boats would scour the area all night. He added that divers from Legazpi were already en route to Masbate to support the search tomorrow.

"We are not stopping our search and rescue operations even tonight," said Ricafrente.

Many arms of society are aiding the efforts, from the Philippine National Police to local fisherman. "We're in the middle of the ocean, surveying the waters. Many of us are here - the Coast Guard, the PNP, Bantay-Dagat, the fisherman. More than 50 people are here," said Tuason.

So far only parts of the private plane have been found. "Fisherman recovered one of the wings of the airplane earlier," he added.

"In front of the airport it looked like it was going to land but it didn't," said Tuason.

Robredo was on his way to Naga to celebrate the long weekend there with his family. 

Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II, RP-C4431: Search for DILG Secretary, flight school owner and co-pilot covers sea off Masbate 

 Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and two others remain missing at sea after the six-seater Piper Seneca they were flying crashed in waters off Masbate City past 5 p.m yesterday

The private plane took off from Mactan for Naga City, the hometown of Robredo, who earlier visited Cebu to attend a launching of a police safety school and a police summit.

Search and rescue operations continue today for Robredo, the pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting, who is owner of the Cebu-based Aviator Flying School and a Nepalese flight student Kshitiz Chand.

An aide of Robredo on the flight, Senior Insp Jun Abrazado, was plucked from the sea by fishermen who witnessed the crash. Abrazado, who suffered a fracture in the arm still joined the search efforts after receiving emergency treatment at a hospital in Masbate.

The aide was thrown out of the aircraft as it plowed into the water but he did not see Robredo get out of the plane, said Lt. Col Julian Pacatan, commander of the Army 9th Infantry Battalion in Masbate.


Cebu City officials expressed grief over the possible fatal loss of Bajinting, who three days earlier helped saved the life of a zoo keeper by sending his plane to pick up anti-snake venom from Camiguin province to treat the patient who was bitten by a King Cobra.

Bajinting was due to receive a special award for his mercy flight in the next Charter Day celebration in February 2013, said Sylvan “Jack” Jakosalem, chief of the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (Citom).

He said Mayor Michael Rama had agreed to give the special recognition, only to be devastated by news of the crash.

Robredo was supposed to take a Cebu Pacific flight back to Manila but made last-minute changes to board the private plane heading straight to Naga.

The pilot sent a distress call to the Masbate Airport about 5 p.m. requesting for an emergency landing, said lawyer Dominina Rances, executive assistant of Robredo.

The plane crashed about three kilometers from the airport in Masbate Bay and about one kilometer from the shoreline.


Robredo arrived in Cebu about 11 a.m. and attended the ground-breaking for the Philippine Police Safety College in Consolacion town.

Consolacion Mayor Nene Alegado said that during her lunch with Robredo, the secretary commented about the humid weather in Cebu.

“Mainit dito sa Cebu. Sa Manila palagi umuulan (It is very warm here in Cebu unlike in Manila where it is always raining),” Alegado quoted Robredo as saying.

Alegado said she asked Robredo if she could again meet him in the evening to discuss some concerns, but Robredo said “Maybe some other time” since he was leaving in the afternoon.

From Consolacion, Robredo went to o the Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City to deliver a keynote speech before the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Community Investigative Support national summit.

Robredo’s wife, Leni said he called her at about 4:30 p.m. to say that the airplane he was on was having an engine problem. The call was immediately cut off and she had no contact with her husband after that.

At the Robredo residence, at Bulusan Street, Dayangdan, Naga City, his family, friends, and political allies were gathered and keeping vigil, awaiting word on his fate.

Up to 7 p.m., Coast Guard divers were still scouring the spot in the Masbate Pass where the plane plummeted.


Malacañang appealed for calm.

Trade Secretary Mar Roxas asked for prayers for the missing Robredo, whom he described as one of the most sensible people in the government.

“Isa po siya sa mga pinakamatino na tao, kaya ipagdasal natin siya.”

Robredo is one of the Cabinet members closest to President Benigno Aquino III and helped his election campaign in 2010.

Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang who said search and rescue operations were ongoing added that “speculation is not useful at this point.”

By late evening, the Coast Guard had to call off the search since they could not continue without special night vision equipment.

PCG Bicol District commander Commodore Joel Garcia said the plane was reported to have crashed at 5:15 p.m. some three miles away from the shoreline.

“The plane reportedly had to make an emergency landing, but it did not make it to the airport of Masbate. It crashed near the beach resort of Masbate,” said Garcia.

He asaid two PCG search-and-rescue teams were sent to the site, along with Special Operations Group divers from Masbate.


The Piper Seneca, an American twin-engine light aircraft is typically used for personal and business flying.

In Cebu, Jakosalem said the six-seater plane was one of the newest acquisitions and top of the line planes of Aviator.

The Citom board chairman said that he immediately called Aviator about 5 p.m. when he heard about the plane crash.

He said he was told the Piper Seneca experienced right engine failure and crash landed in Masbate. Last contact with the plane was made at 4:20 p.m./INQUIRER, AP and a report from Chief of Reporters Doris Boncac