President Benigno Aquino III will be staying in Masbate to oversee search and rescue operations for Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and two pilots whose Piper Seneca light plane crashed just short of land on Saturday.
This was announced late Sunday over the President's official Twitter account. Aquino flew into Masbate early Sunday and presided over a command conference at the command post at Lasala Beach Resort there.
Aircraft and divers searching for Robredo and the pilots were called off late Sunday but boats scouring the area will continue operations. Aside from being a member of the Aquino Cabinet, Robredo is also executive vice president of the administration Liberal Party.
Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II, in a press briefing, said it was getting too dark to keep searching and underwater currents were too strong for divers. Rescuers are not giving up, however. "This is still a search and rescue operation," he stressed.
Surface search will continue throughout the night and will be assisted by a towed sonar array, he said. In an update tweeted late Saturday, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda quoted Roxas who said that one of the last divers saw a metallic object with lettering at a depth of 150 feet.
Rescuers are focusing their search on an area 5 kilometers by 2 kilometers, with depths ranging from "30 meters to around 300 feet (91.44 meters)", he said. On his Twitter account, Roxas announced that divers will dive to around 250-300 feet on Monday. He said equipment and a decompression chamber from the Philippine Coast Guard will be ready for deeper dives.
Roxas had earlier called for help in acquiring trimix, a mixture of oxygen, helium, and nitrogen, but he later reported they had "found and arranged helium in Cebu, double tanks and mixer compressor in Manila and means to airlift here."
Earlier Sunday afternoon, divers recovered flight plans and a passenger manifest more than 100 feet underwater late Sunday.
"1st more definitive sign of location. Cc of flight plan recovered by divers on seabed 100+ ft," he tweeted. "Diver hu found flt pln confirms it was at 150 ft alongside 'tracks' on sea bed along North-South heading." This discovery followed after rescuers also recovered parts of the plane's wing.
Search and rescue helicopters were deployed along Ticao island and the coast of Masbate island Sunday afternoon as the search for Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo continued.
Roxas said on his Twitter account that divers have also been deployed to investigate "some trace signals of disturbance on sea floor of indeterminate origin indicated by sonar."
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council executive director Benito Ramos had earlier said over radio dzBB that sonar deployed at the crash site detected an object less than a kilometer off Masbate island.
A piece of the plane carrying Robredo was recovered earlier, a photo taken by a government official showed.
Secretary Roxas posted a photo on his Twitter account, noting that "[the] debris -- appears to be right wing. Nmbrs are part of aircraft designation rpc-4431."
Search and rescue operations resumed early Sunday, with more help coming from a team from the Americans, officials said. Assets from the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, and Philippine National Police are conducting the search alongside local fishing boats.
"Search area has depths of 40 to 87 mtrs. Human scuba can only do 10 min at 40 mtrs before nitro narcosis," added Roxas who is now the designated spokesperson on the search and rescue operations.
According to Aquino's official Facebook page, the sonar vessel deployed at the crash site detects "any underwater metal object. This Sonar gear is from Electronic Geophysical Survey (EGS) Philippines."
President Benigno Aquino III flew in Sunday morning on an Air Force C-130 plane to check on operations.
With him were Roxas, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, and Cavite Representative Jun Abaya, the Palace said.
According to Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, the search continued throughout Saturday night.
The Palace also announced that a vigil for Robredo's rescue will resume at 3 p.m. Sunday at La Salle Greenhills. A mass will be held at 5 p.m. Both will be open to the public.
Meanwhile, Robredo's daughter Aika Robredo is asking for prayers for her missing dad. "Asking for prayers and a miracle. Have never wanted/prayed for something this badly before. Please continue to pray," her recent tweet said.