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