[PHOTO -Handout photo from the Armed Forces of the Philippines shows military personnel carrying the body of Nepalese pilot Kshitiz Chand past the wreckage of the light plane which was carrying DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo when it crashed off Masbate.]

MAABATE, PHILIPPINES, AUGUST 27, 2012 (PHILSTAR) By Jaime Laude – The search for the victims of a plane crash in Masbate that killed Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo last Saturday ended after the body of the Nepalese co-pilot was retrieved yesterday.

The body of Kshitiz Chand floated to the surface and was spotted by a passenger ferry that passed near the crash site in Masbate Bay.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told a press briefing here that Chand’s father and other relatives identified the body.

“Chand’s body was found within the general vicinity of the crash site. He was wearing a white pilot uniform with pilot wing pinned on the chest line,” Gazmin said.

The M/V Cooperative, a Sorsogon-bound passenger boat manned by Tom de los Santos, turned over Chand’s remains to a Navy gunboat scouring the crash site.

Gazmin said the body was spotted around 7:45 a.m. floating near the shoreline, apparently carried by the low tide.

With the last of the missing passengers of the plane accounted for, Gazmin announced the retrieval operations were concluded, with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) taking over the investigation of the crash.

[PHOTO - Capt. Jessup Bahinting. Photo courtesy of,
Bahinting, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and co-pilot Nepalese co-pilot Kshitiz Chand remain missing Monday after their Piper Seneca plane crashed off the waters of Masbate on Saturday afternoon]

Pilot Jessup Bahinting’s body was retrieved on Wednesday afternoon inside the plane’s cockpit when the wreckage was pulled up to about 50 meters deep.

The fuselage was also brought to the surface shortly after the body of Bahinting was retrieved.

“With this development, we shall now conclude the Search and Recovery (SAR) operations. We condole with the families of Secretary Robredo, Mr. Jessup Bahinting and Mr. Kshitiz Chand,” Gazmin said.

Gazmin said Task Force Kalihim would already terminate the retrieval operations and ask CAAP to take over the investigation of the plane crash.

[PHOTO -The body of 22 year-old Kshitiz Chand (shown in photo), co-pilot of the ill-fated plane that crashed on Aug. 20, 2012, off Masbate City, was retrieved by fishermen on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. PHOTO FROM FACEBOOK]

Initial steps

Citing protocol on the air mishap, the police will be conducting their own scene of the crime investigation and gather pieces of evidence of the doomed aircraft, whose right engine remained on the seabed.

“It’s a protocol we’re following here. We will also conduct our investigation in the form of conducting an inventory of the plane’s wreck. We will also secure the statement of the survivor,” said Senior Superintendent Pete Cabatingan, chief of the regional police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), referring to Senior Inspector June Paolo Abrazado who survived the crash.

Cabatingan, however, said CAAP investigators will have total control of the wreck to determine the cause of the mishap.

The CAAP probe would focus on stability of the aircraft as well as the human side of the accident, Task Force Kalihim officials said.

The wreckage was placed on a bamboo raft near the shoreline.

The CAAP said the engine of the plane would be sent to US experts for testing.

CAAP director general William Hotchkiss III said US air crash investigators have the technical expertise to analyze the plane’s engine to determine the cause of the crash.

The CAAP has formed an inquiry board headed by Captain Amado Soliman to determine the cause of the crash.

Hotchkiss said a suspension order has been issued by CAAP grounding all aircraft used by Aviatour Air pending results of the investigation.

Hotchkiss said CAAP will keep the plane wreckage at Masbate airport under tight security. This will be thoroughly examined by the CAAP composite team to gather accurate data on the real cause of the plane crash last Saturday.

Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II said the air crash investigation would not only involve CAAP and the Coast Guard but also the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to check the text messages of the passengers of the ill-fated flight that were sent to some people moments before the plane crashed.

“The CAAP has already formed an accident investigation board to gather physical evidence, aircraft communication to the (control) tower… records of the aviation firm, including maintenance records,” Roxas told reporters before attending the deliberations on the proposed budget of the agency at the House of Representatives.

“(The investigation) has already started in the sense that we have been gathering, for example, the video narrative of Jun Abrazado to the President. All relevant information will be gathered and we will make a timeline. (The probe) will be comprehensive so we can see as much as we can what happened,” Roxas said.

Also to be looked into was the decision of Bahinting to make an emergency landing in Masbate airport instead of returning back to Cebu, which has more equipment for aviation repair, he said.

“We’re not saying the pilot’s decision was wrong. We’ll find out all these things after we retrieve the physical parts, the fuselage, tail section, from the ocean floor,” Roxas said.

Another question to be answered is that passenger aircraft are supposed to be fitted with emergency transponders that are activated in the event of a mishap so rescuers can immediately hone in on the distressed plane, he said.

He said the Piper Seneca plane either did not have one or had a broken transponder that made it hard for rescuers to locate the aircraft.

“What’s important is that experts will be the ones to investigate, not us amateurs with some theories because whatever will be the findings, they will be the basis for future regulations that would be written because of this,” Roxas said.

If the data, analysis and conclusion of the investigators were wrong, the regulations would also be erroneous, he said.

He said the CAAP will also investigate Bahinting’s aviation company, “aircraft by aircraft, pilot by pilot, up to the mechanics to determine what system they use to maintain their planes.”

Despite the string of aviation mishaps involving both government and civilian aircraft, the industry remains safe, Roxas said.

“We have about 30 million passengers a year, and our commercial aircraft remains safe. This is a major and personal tragedy but the airline industry is safe and we continue to do everything we can to make it safer,” Roxas said.

A collective effort

Gazmin, for his part, also took the opportunity to thank those who helped in the massive search, rescue and retrieval efforts that began on Saturday when the Piper Seneca plane crashed.

Gazmin said the search and rescue operations, while painful to the victims’ families, could not have come to a successful end were it not for the cooperation and logistical support of local government units.

“We would like to thank also our foreign and local divers. The Koreans are still here. The US Navy for their technical assistance, our Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard divers for their dedication and commitment,” Gazmin said.

Several foreign technical divers from Cebu volunteered to join their colleagues in the Philippine Navy. They did not leave the crash site until all the bodies were recovered and the ill-fated plane brought to the surface.

South Korean technical dive experts led by Jeffrey Lee said they would be going back to Cebu, knowing that they had done their share in the success of the retrieval operations.

“It’s very dangerous down there. It’s a very dangerous job. Good that in our little way we were able to help and are happy that we can already go back to Cebu,” Lee said.

Gazmin also thanked the locals and the media for their cooperation. He also thanked the owners of local fishing vessels for providing the needed equipment for the rescue and retrieval operations.

Coast Guard commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan also commended the personnel that participated in the search and rescue operations.

“We did excellent in spite of the fact that our divers are not technical divers and so they cannot go down very deep to where the wreckage was found. Even with lacking equipment, our divers still performed to the best of their ability in searching for the plane,” Tan said.

Masbate Gov. Rizalina Laneta, for her part, said the entire province condoles with the families of Robredo and the two pilots.

Robredo’s body was retrieved Tuesday from the wreckage that was located some 54.86 meters (180 feet) deep and 800 meters from shore.

The wreckage was dragged to shallow waters that allowed divers to retrieve the body of Bahinting on Wednesday.

Authorities, however, are still trying to determine why Chand’s body was not in the cockpit.

Several rescue officials suggested Chand could have been thrown outside the cockpit upon impact and swept by the strong current.

Chand’s body could have been carried by strong currents while the wreckage was being dragged and pulled up to the surface Wednesday evening, other officials said.

“We don’t really know for now. That’s for the investigators to determine,” Task Force Kalihim commander Maj. Gen. Eduardo del Rosario said. – Rainier Allan Ronda, Cet Dematera, Paolo Romero, Evelyn Macairan, Jose Sollano, Ria Mae Booc/The Freeman


Let us mourn in peace, asks widow of Robredo plane pilot by Rappler Posted on 08/26/2012 10:04 PM | Updated 08/26/2012 10:16 PM

CEBU, Philippines - The widow of Capt. Jessup Bahinting, the pilot of the ill-fated chartered plane carrying the late Interior and Local Government Sec. Jesse Robredo, requested the public to keep the good name of her late husband and allow them to mourn his passing in peace.

On Sunday, August 26, a day before they bury her husband, Margarita Bahinting belied reports that his pilot license to fly commercial aircraft was expired and that he allowed his Nepalese student, Kshitz Chand, to command the plane when they crashed off Masbate on August 18.

“They are putting down my husband. All those allegations are not true and I don’t know where they come from,” Margarita told local reporters,

Margarita was responding to reports that the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), which is investigating the crash, is checking its database for information on the last time Capt. Bahinting renewed his necessary licenses.

Margarita said her husband renewed his license just last March and had complied with other necessary requirements.

Licenses for pilots and flight instructors need to be renewed every year.

Capt. Bahinting founded and ran Mactan-based Aviatour Air, which offers chartered flight services and trains pilot students.

The chartered flight that would have brought the well-loved Sec. Robredo to Naga City took off from Mactan Cebu International Airport.

The CAAP is reportedly investigating why Bahinting's body, which was recovered inside the submerged aircraft, was found strapped at the right side of the cockpit.

“The plane was upside down when it was recovered. That was why my husband was recovered from the right instead of the left where the pilot seats,” Margarita said.

Margarita cites as proof one of the pictures taken by Police Center for Aviation Security (PCAS) chief Supt. Ritchie Posadas at the Mactan airport tarmac showing Bahinting already in the captain seat and Chand about to enter the other side before the ill-fated plane took off.

“This proves that Bahinting was the pilot and not the Chand,” Posadas said, adding that these pictures have been forwarded to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group which is investigating the case with the CAAP.

Bahinting’s remains arrived at the hometown of his wife in Barangay San Roque, Ginatilan, Southwestern Cebu on Sunday afternoon, August 26.

The captain’s casket was placed at the function room of the beach resort owned by the family for a one night of public viewing.

Interment is set Monday afternoon, August 27, at 3pm at a private cemetery in Ginatilan.

Relatives, friends, and neighbors broke into tears as Bahinting’s casket arrived from Cebu City.

The day before, the Cebu City government gave Bahinting through his widow a posthumous award for helping a zoo worker bitten by a cobra days before the plane crash.

Bahinting had one of his planes fetch 4 vials of anti-venom from Camiguin Island for zoo worker Ronald Aventurado who is also mourning the loss of his savior. – Rappler, with reports from Ryan Christopher J. Sorote

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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