Philippines interior secretary missing after plane crash

Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo called his wife Maria Leonor "Leni" Gerona Robredo at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday to say that the plane flying him from Cebu to Camarines Sur was having engine problems.

Leni, a lawyer, made this confirmation, adding that the call was immediately cut off and there was no contact with Robredo after that.

Malacañang has confirmed that the six-seater Piper Seneca plane that Robredo was on board with three others had gone missing after it crashed in the waters off the shoreline of Masbate City at about 5 p.m. Saturday.

The private aircraft was heading for Naga City, Robredo's hometown, from Cebu when one of the pilots sent a distress call to the Masbate Airport, requesting permission for an emergency landing.

That was the last contact with Robredo's plane.

The plane crashed some 3 kilometers from the airport on Masbate Bay, Robredo's head executive assistant Dominina Rances said in a phone interview.

Also reported missing were the pilot, identified as Capt. Jessup Bahinting, owner of Aviatour Flight School, and Nepalese copilot Kshitiz Chand.

Philippine National Police Chief Nicanor Bartolome said P/Senior Insp. Jun Abrazado, Robredo's aide, survived after he unbuckled his seat belt and was thrown off the plane during the crash.

He was later rescued by fishermen.

"But after he was given initial medical treatment, he returned to the site to join the search," Bartolome added.

Abrazado suffered a fracture in the arm and was brought for emergency treatment at a hospital in Masbate City, according to Lt. Col. Julian Pacatan, commander of the Army 9th Infantry Battalion in Masbate now involved in the search-and-rescue operation.

Bartolome has directed the police in the area to join the search, even as he has deployed divers and volunteers to help the Coast Guard and Masbate local officials, led by Gov. Rizalina Lanete, who have mounted a search-and-rescue operation.

But as of 7:30 Saturday night, inadequate equipment necessary for nighttime search underwater prompted frogmen to temporarily withdraw from the crash site, according to Ernie Delgado of the Philippine Information Agency in Masbate.

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

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 hot here in Cebu unlike in Manila where it is always raining)," Alegado quoted Robredo as saying.

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

Robredo was supposed to leave Cebu on a Cebu Pacific flight but made last minute changes because he was rushing to go home to Naga.

Senior Supt. Erson Digal, who was part of the security escort of the secretary during his visit in Cebu, said Robredo was supposed to take a 2:40 p.m. flight back to Manila but changed his mind and decided to go home to Naga City instead.

Robredo took a chartered flight to Naga from Aviatour Flight School based in Lapu-Lapu City, Mactan Island. Capt. Bahinting agreed to pilot the Piper Seneca to Naga along with flight student Chand.

Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno said Robredo's plane left Cebu at around 2:30 p.m.

Based on information gathered from Abrazado, the aide did not see Robredo get out of the plane when it crashed, according to Lt. Col. Julian Pacatan.

Digal said in an interview over dySS that he received a text message from Abrazado that their plane was having problems with the propeller while making a turn.

A few minutes later, Robredo's aide sent another text message to Digal, saying they were about to make an emergency landing.

Amparo Perez, president of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) in Masbate, said in a phone interview that rescue operations have stopped between 7:30 and 8 p.m. "It is already dark but rescue will resume at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow, Sunday," she said.

She said as of 6:30 p.m., rescuers were still scouring the sea and found the currents along Ticao Pass very strong even as the crash site was just two kilometers away from the shoreline.

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