MANILA: Philippine authorities said search and rescue operations were underway on Wednesday at the crash site of a missing trainer aircraft carrying two people, one of them a Saudi national.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said it remains hopeful that the pilot in command, Capt. Jose Nelson Yapparcon, and student pilot Abdullah Al-Sharif are alive and will be found safe.
“We’re hoping they were able to survive, that they’re just somewhere on one of the islands in the area,” CAAP spokesman and Chief Information Officer Eric Apolonio told Arab News.
Search and rescue operations are being conducted by the navy, air force and coast guard. A private plane was also hired to help look for the ill-fated aircraft, which was operated by Orient Aviation Corp.
According to reports, the Beechcraft Baron 55 (BE55) light twin-engine aircraft took off from San Jose Airport at 8.06 a.m. on Friday, and was traveling south before it disappeared from radar several minutes later.
Apolonio said the CAAP checked with nearby airports for a possible landing. “When the reports were negative, a search and rescue was immediately declared,” he added.
For three days, there was no sighting of the aircraft. But on Monday, the CAAP announced its wreckage was located 27 miles south of the Mindoro Strait. A bag belonging to Yapparcon was among the floating debris. The CAAP issued a notice at 8 p.m. on Tuesday for airmen to avoid the area.
Apolonio described the aircraft as an “old model used in flying schools so it doesn’t have sophisticated communications equipment.” He said it did not have a transponder but had passed CAAP safety procedures.
On the fate of the missing pilots, he said there is a better chance of survival because the crash occurred on the water.
“If we couldn’t find them we might call off the operation, but we still can’t say they’re gone,” he said. “The plane fell into the sea, which is one of the deepest waters in the country.”
Pressed for further information on the student pilot, Apolonio declined to give more details other than confirming that he was a Saudi national who was in the Philippines for training.
On Tuesday, Muhammad Ali Al-Qazi posted on social media “a humble request” for prayers for his missing friend Al-Sharif.
Apolonio said personnel from the Saudi Embassy are coordinating with the CAAP rescue group.
The Aircraft Accident Investigation and Inquiry Board (AAIIB), which works with the CAAP, has also sent investigators to determine the cause of the crash.