About 300 rescuers have been deployed to search for one of the most powerful Philippine ministers who is missing and feared dead after a light aircraft he was travelling in crashed into the sea.
President Benigno Aquino took the lead on Sunday in the search for Jesse Robredo, the country’s interior secretary, a day after his plane went down near the central island of Masbate.
Rescuers found a portion of the right wing and a copy of the flight plan underwater in an area where what appeared to be skid marks and metal parts on the seafloor were detected by sonar equipment.
Divers and military aircraft suspended their operations before dusk but planned to focus their search in that area on Monday, Mar Roxas, transport secretary, said, adding that the search by boats would continue through the night.
Four people were on the private plane. Robredo’s aide, Jun Abrazado, was the only rescued survivor. He lost consciousness as the plane hit the water, but managed to swim out of the cabin when he regained consciousness and was rescued by fishermen.
“When he regained consciousness, he was still in the plane,” Roxas told DZBB radio. “The water had risen up to his chest in the cabin and he tried to grope for Secretary Jesse but could not find him. He swam out of the cabin.”
“We hope he’s just floating somewhere, holding to a piece of debris or wood,” Roxas said of Robredo.
Abrasado was helping the search from his hospital bed by describing where and how the plane went down. The
president visited him and then joined police, coast guard and army generals at a beach near the crash site where they poured over maps.
The plane was supposed to make an emergency landing at Masbate airport after the pilot radioed in to say he was experiencing engine problems.
The US has called a prayer vigil at a Roman Catholic chapel in Manila for the 54-year-old cabinet member, a father of three daughters and a former city mayor.
He is considered to be one of the most influential Philippine politicians and a close presidential aide.
As interior secretary, Robredo was in control of the country’s 143,000-strong national police force which has long been dogged by accusations of corruption and abuse.
In recent months, he had ordered investigations into alleged financial irregularities over the construction of police stations and purchase of helicopters and rescue boats.
Robredo was also playing a key role in the dismantling of private armies allegedly deployed by some powerful provincial governors and city mayors ahead of congressional and local elections in 2013.
A former official at an ice cream company, Robredo was elected mayor of Naga City in the strife-torn Bicol region, south of Manila in 1988 at the age of 29, making him the youngest mayor in the country at the time.
His success in turning the once-sleepy city into a trading, housing and education centre won him many honours including a 2000 Ramon Magsaysay award, considered Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize.
After serving nine years as a city mayor, he joined Aquino’s successful campaign for the presidency in 2010, endorsing his reformist platform. Robredo was subsequently appointed to the cabinet.