Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Presidential chopper wreckage found

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MANILA, Philippines - Police operatives on Wednesday found the totally burned wreckage of the presidential chopper that went missing Tuesday afternoon, a police official said.

Chief Superintendent Roberto Damian, director of the Cagayan Valley regional police, said three charred bodies were also found with the wreckage.

In a phone patch interview with reporters, Presidential Management Staff head Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said they could not still identify the bodies.

"As of now we could not identify the three. Wala pa... hindi pa namin na-identify kung babae o lalaki [We have also not identified whether they were male or female]," he said.

Damian said the wreckage was found in a heavily forested area at Sitio Mangingihe in Barangay Eheb in Tinoc, Ifugao.

"It was found totally burned," Damian said of the chopper debris.


A local policeman who was among those who located the missing aircraft said two of the bodies were found in pieces.

“May nakita kami na buo na isa po. Piloto yata yun [We saw a body that was still whole. We think it was the pilot’s]," said SPO2 Samuel Guyon of Tinoc Police in an interview on dzBB radio.

Asked how they were able to determine that one of the bodies belongs to the pilot, Guyon said: “Yung uniporme ho [Through his uniform]."

The missing Bell 412 aircraft (tail number 1946) was carrying Press Undersecretary Jose Capadocia, presidential military aide Brig. Gen. Carlos Clet, Undersecretary for Presidential Engagements and Appointments Malou Frostrom, Presidential Management Staff assistant director Perlita Bandayanon, Navy Petty Officer 1 Demy Reyno, and Air Force Staff Sergeant Roe Gem Perez.

The team was on their way to Banaue in Ifugao to conduct an ocular inspection there for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Wednesday visit.

The President is scheduled to inspect the Banaue portion of the 45-kilometer long Bontoc-Banaue section of the highway at Km. 350 in Sitio Awan Igid in Barangay Viewpoint.

Armed Forces public information chief Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres earlier identified the pilots as Major Rolando Sacatani and Captain Alvin Alegata.

The chopper took off from Loakan Airport in Baguio City at about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday and was supposed to arrive in Ifugao about an hour later.


Esperon said that they are still hoping that the other five passengers are still alive and said that efforts to locate them would continue.

“While five others have yet to be found. We hope that they were able to escape after the crash and we hope they could still be alive," he said, adding that local officials and even miners have joined in the search and rescue operations.

In a separate radio report, Directorate for Integrated Police Operations (DIPO) for Northern Luzon chief Director Leopoldo Bataoil was quoted as saying that two more choppers would be sent to the area of the wreckage on hopes that more bodies - or even survivors - would be found.

Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) chief Lt. Gen. Isagani Cachuela said they have ruled out air operations for the meantime due to bad weather conditions in the area.

He said troops are coordinating with the local police to secure the area.

In an interview with radio dzBB, deputy presidential spokesperson Anthony Golez admitted the spirits of Palace employees have been low since the chopper was reported missing Tuesday afternoon.

“Magmula kahapon mababa ang spirit ng taga-Malacañang, dahil itong nasangkot dito malapit sa amin, kasamahan sa opisina. Araw-araw natin nakikita, they can be considered the life of the party," he said.

[Since Tuesday the people at Malacañang have been feeling down because those missing are close to us. They can be considered the life of the party. We see them everyday.]

He also said that President Arroyo has instructed all of search and rescue teams to ensure "that all the reports coming in are verified and validated." - Jam Sisante, Sophia Dedace, Aie Balagtas See, Amita Legaspi and Floro Taguinod, GMANews.TV

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