President Benigno Aquino on Sunday took the lead in the search for Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, a day after a light plane carrying the local government chief and three others crashed in waters off Masbate.
Mr. Aquino flew to Masbate early Sunday morning to oversee the search for the wreckage of the four-seat Piper Seneca that crashed into the sea while attempting an emergency landing about 5 p.m. on Saturday.
More than 300 rescuers were scouring the area about 500 meters from the shore of Masbate City for Robredo, who was missing along with the plane’s two pilots.
Robredo’s bodyguard, Chief Insp. Jun Abrasado, made a dramatic escape from the doomed plane and was rescued by fishermen. Abrasado was helping in the search, officials said.
Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas, who accompanied Mr. Aquino and was designated as official spokesperson for the search, said special sonar equipment had been flown to Masbate to help in the search operation after some debris, including one wing of the missing plane, was recovered.
“We just want to do everything we can to save him [Robredo],” Roxas said in a message on Twitter.
“We remain hopeful that Secretary Robredo was just carried by the current … and that he will be found,” Roxas said, adding that Mr. Aquino was “very emotionally attached” to Robredo and was doing everything he could to help find him.
Four people were on the private plane that was heading for Naga City in Camarines Sur province from Cebu City when it malfunctioned and crashed in waters between Masbate and Ticao Islands.
Missing, aside from Robredo, were Capt. Jessup Bahinting, the pilot and CEO of Aviatour Air that owned the aircraft, and Kshitiz Chand, the Nepalese copilot.
At about 3 p.m. Sunday, Masbate Bantay Dagat reported to City Mayor Socrates Tuason that a large object had been detected on the seafloor.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) also reported that a Navy vessel’s sonar had detected “something metallic” on the sea floor.
“The sonar showed it was something metallic. But it’s not definite yet if that was really part of the airplane,” NDRRMC Executive Director Benito Ramos said by phone.