Chances to locate missing Cessna plane now higher due to smaller search area

Jairo Bolledo

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Chances to locate missing Cessna plane now higher due to smaller search area
The Isabela Incident Management Team narrows down the search area to Divilacan town, after they received information that a farmer saw a distressed plane flying towards Maconacon airport

MANILA, Philippines – Although it’s hard to tell if the missing Cessna plane in Isabela will be located on Friday, January 27, the Isabela local government said the chances are now higher due to the narrowed-down search area.

Mahirap pong sabihin. Unang-una, ‘yon pong weather. Pero tumaas, tumaas ‘yong chance na mahanap today because ang liit na lang ngayon ng search area and puwede pang ma-pinpoint. Pero ang problema po talaga natin ay si weather,” Constante Foronda, head of Isabela’s Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), said in a press conference on Friday.

(It’s hard to tell. First, the bad weather. But the chance of locating the plane today is higher because the search area has been narrowed down and can be pinpointed. But our main problem is the weather.)

Foronda was responding to a question on whether the missing plane will be located within the day. The Isabela Incident Management Team had narrowed down the search area to Divilacan town, after they received information that a farmer saw a distressed plane flying towards Maconacon airport.

The area is within Barangay Dicaruyan in Divilacan – only 10 kilometers from the cell site of the town of Maconacon. Earlier, the authorities said a cellphone of one of the passengers was able to register within the cell site’s radius.

The Cessna plane, with tail number RP-C1174 and six people on board, has been missing since January 24 after it took off from the Cauayan Domestic Airport in Isabela province. The plane was supposed to arrive at 3 pm on the same day in Maconacon town.

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Foronda added that authorities have yet to deploy a drone in the area because of bad weather. The official added they cannot say if there is a “high” probability that the passengers survived until they see signs of life, but added that they are hopeful.

“In fact, we’re so optimistic. Nakakarga po sa chopper ay mga pagkain na ihuhulog doon sa site, puwedeng kainin no’ng mga survivors (The chopper contains food that will be dropped at the site for the survivors). That’s how optimistic we are,” Foronda said.

The Isabela PDRRMO head said they also set up a triage in their command center to immediately attend to the survivors’ medical needs in case they are rescued. The operation remains at search and rescue level, as of Friday.

Foronda also responded to criticisms that authorities are not doing enough. The Isabela official said it’s hard to operate because of the area’s topography.

Akala siguro nila patag ‘yan na madali mong galugarin. Hindi nila alam na bulubundukin ‘yan, matataas na bundok, magkakatabi. Magkamali ka lang eh puwede kayong sumemplang doon sa tagiliran ng bundok o mahalikan ng helicopter ‘yong bundok,” he explained.

(They think it’s easy to search because they think the area is flat. They don’t know it’s actually a mountain range, tall mountains standing together. When you make a mistake, you can fall at the side of the mountain, or the helicopter will crash in the mountain.)

How about emergency locators?

Planes have an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) that can be used to identify the location of an aircraft in case of an emergency. During the briefing, Foronda and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines explained that an ELT is a device attached to a plane. In case of collision or plane crash, the device will notify the system and will activate the plane’s location.

But, according to Foronda, they have yet to receive information through the Cessna plane’s ELT. He added there could be a lot of factors as to why the ELT system has yet to provide information about the plane.

“Hanggang ngayon, wala. Dapat tumawag na ‘yong nasa Singapore, I understand. Ang tatawag ‘yong Singapore doon sa may-ari na sasabihin, ‘na-activate ‘yong ELT ninyo at sasabihin nila nandito ‘yong location,’ wala. Kung mayroon sana, mabilis nating nahanap ‘yan,” the official said.

(Until now, there’s none. I understand, the representatives of the ELT’s system from Singapore should have called by now. Singapore will call the plane’s owner and will say, ‘Your ELT has been activated and here’s the location,’ but there’s none. If we already received the information, it would be easier to search.) –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.