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5 bodies retrieved from chopper crash site

Posted by Abi Kwok on April 8, 2009

By Abigail Kwok, Delmar Cariño, Elmer Kristian Dauigoy
Inquirer Northern Luzon, INQUIRER.net
First Posted 15:18:00 04/08/2009

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 5) Five bodies have been taken from the wreckage of a presidential helicopter that crashed in Ifugao province with another body sighted buried under debris, a police official said, hours after the downed aircraft was found in the hills of Tinoc town.

Governor Teodoro Baguilat Jr. said three bodies were recovered from the crash site in Barangay (village) Eheb and carried on foot to an area in Tinoc accessible by land transport and, from there, to the Tinoc District Hospital.

Senior Superintendent Danilo Pelisco, Benguet provincial police director, said aside from these, search and retrieval teams pulled two other bodies from the wreckage of the Bell 412 chopper with the tail number 1946, which had gone missing shortly after taking off from Baguio City’s Loakan airport Tuesday afternoon.

Another body, said Pelisco, was found buried under debris.

While Pelisco described one of the recovered bodies as clad in a blue uniform and possibly that of a helicopter crewman, he said all the remains were “burned beyond recognition.”

These left two of the eight passengers of the ill-fated helicopter, which carried ranking aides of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, still unaccounted for. He said they were “hoping for the best na buhay pa ang iba [that the others are still alive].”

Pelisco said the search for the missing passengers would continue into the night.

He said the recovered bodies would be flown to Baguio for identification as soon as possible.

“Right now, the priority is to evacuate the bodies. It will be by foot…because it’s impossible to airlift. We don’t want to endanger the volunteers,” Baguilat told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) by phone earlier on Wednesday.

Aerial operations were suspended in the afternoon because of torrential rains, he said.

Arroyo, who is staying at the Mansion in Baguio City, has been informed of the development, Presidential Management Staff chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. told reporters in Malacañang.

Onboard the aircraft were Arroyo’s military aide, Brigadier General Carlos Clet, undersecretary Marilou Frostrom of the Presidential Management Staff, undersecretary Jose Capadocia Jr. of the Office of the Press Secretary, assistant director Perlita Bandayanon of the PMS’ office of regional concerns, chopper pilot Major Rolando Sacatani, his co-pilot Captain Alvin Alegata, Petty Officer 1 Demy Reyno, and Air Force crewman Staff Sergeant Romeo Gem Perez.

Miners and mountaineers were tapped for the search for the still missing passengers, Esperon said.

But reports from those who saw the wreck were grim, Baguilat said.

“We couldn’t really verify how many were already found…But right now, the people who went there said everybody’s dead,” he said.

Damian said the reports he received indicated that the helicopter got entangled in a tree, causing the crash. Police have now shifted their operations to search and retrieval, he said.

In a separate interview, Director Leopoldo Bataoil of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in Northern Luzon said they have deployed two helicopters and additional ground rescue teams to scour the crash site.

Senior Superintendent Samuel Diciano, deputy director of the Cordillera police, said a team of Benguet policemen aboard a helicopter found the wreckage past 2 p.m. in Sitio (sub-village) Mang-ngiihi in Eheb.

In a telephone interview, Brigadier General Horacio Lapinid, commander of the 1st Air Division told INQUIRER.net members of the Air Force’s 505 Search and Rescue Team have been sent to the crash site.

Lapinid said the Air Force team was on a US CH-46 chopper lent by the US embassy that was originally to be used for the Balikatan exercises in the Bicol region.

He said the Air Force’s Safety Office would conduct the investigation into what made the chopper go down.

He said they were hoping to find survivors by Thursday or, “if not, ma-recover na sila [they can be recovered].”

The Malacañang aides were supposed to be the advance team for Arroyo’s inspection of the Bontoc -Banaue road project in the tourist town of Banaue, which was called off after the chopper was confirmed missing.

Baguilat said the search on Tuesday night initially targeted Ifugao, particularly the remote village of Camandag in Asipulo. Baguilat said he received a report on Wednesday morning saying that search teams could not find the helicopter there.

This, he said, expanded the search to Tinoc and in the common boundaries of Ifugao, Benguet and Nueva Vizcaya.

“Initial target area was in our jurisdiction – remote and without communication, negative findings there as of this [morning]. Now, search moving toward [Mt.] Pulag, either in Ifugao, Benguet or even [Nueva] Vizcaya,” Baguilat said in a text message sent to the Inquirer.

Reports said residents in Barangay Eheb in Tinoc heard and saw the helicopter over their village on Tuesday afternoon.

Immediately upon takeoff from Loakan, Capadocia was still coordinating Ms Arroyo’s itinerary by telephone with Helen Tibaldo, Philippine Information Agency Cordillera director.

Tibaldo said Capadocia sent his list of requests by text messages, including background details on Jovie Ann Decoyna, the topnotcher of the recent nursing licensure examinations.

Capadocia wanted to present Decoyna, a Benguet native, to the President in Banaue, she said.

Tibaldo said the team was supposed to follow the path of the Halsema Highway from Loakan but Capadocia sent a text message, saying they had zero visibility.

Joel Guinto, Katherine Evangelista, INQUIRER.net; Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Tarra Quismundo, Inquirer

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