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Weather, terrain hampering search efforts for missing plane in Isabela


Bad weather and rugged terrain are hampering search efforts for the Piper aircraft that went missing in Isabela last Thursday, according to an interview by Orly Trinidad on dzBB Super Radyo 594 on Sunday.

Atty. Constante Foronda, head of the Isabela Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) said rain, heavy clouds and the steep terrain in the search area are making it difficult for teams to locate the missing Piper PA-32 Cherokee and its two occupants. 

Foronda said they have formed an Incident Management Team composed of the PDRRMO, Civil Defense, Army, PNP. Coast Guard, BFP, PAF and other government units and private organizations.

“We have aerial search assets on standby but they are unable to fly since the area where they believe the missing aircraft went down is under thick cloud cover,” Foronda said.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) in San Mariano, Isabela, the location where the missing Piper is believed to have went down. The NOTAM takes effect from December 2 to 9. This means no aircraft are allowed to fly within a 10 nautical miles radius and an altitude of 20,000 feet in the area.

The PDRRMO head said the situation is is very similar to the conditions to an earlier plane crash this year.

“Ang challenges po namin ay ang terrain at iyung weather,” he added.

On the ground, there are currently two groups conducting searches. One from the east or Pacific Ocean side is a composite team of 44 personnel from the PNP, Army and locals with indigenous tribesmen who have knowledge of the area.

Another group from the western side is a PNP Mobile Force company of 32 members.  

“Hopefully pag nagka salubong makita na ang nawawalang eroplano,” Foronda said.

The PDRRMO head said more volunteers want to join the search but they are liming the number of those involved to manage the safety of the search and rescue personnel.

He cautioned that the Sierra Madre portion in questions is steep, rugged terrain and the teams are currently battling rain and cold in the mountains.

The two people on board the single-engine plane are the pilot and a woman passenger. The Piper was  on a cargo flight from Palanan to Cauayan City when it went missing, according to Foronda.

During the day of the incident, Foronda said the weather during the flight was cloudy and light rains but the pilot felt conditions were “manageable” so decided to carry on with the 44-minute cargo run.

But Foronda said that local weather from a flight’s origin, the flight path and destination are subject to sudden changes.

According to Foronda, aviators consider the Palanan-Cauayan City route “one of the most challenging routes”.

“The pilots follow waypoints for safer routes. It’s possible a strong gust of wind must have forced the plane to veer from the usual flight path and struck the side of a mountain. That is our working theory,” Foronda surmised.

The PDRRMO said it received reports from residents of Barangay Didyan in Palanan that they heard heard the drone of an airplane then suddenly stopped.

Authorities are hoping for a window in the weather on Sunday so aircraft can participate in search operations. Two helicopters, a PAF W-3A Sokol SAR (search and rescue)  from Tarlac and a Robinson R44 light helo are facing difficulties reaching the area due to the weather.

Once the missing aircraft is discovered, Foronda said they plan to drop supplies and rescuers as soon as possible using a jungle penetrator device toi break through the thick foliage.—RF, GMA Integrated News

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