MANILA: Saudi diplomats in Manila have joined Philippine authorities in planning the next phase of a search for a Saudi aviation student who went missing while on a training flight in Occidental Mindoro, about 403 km east of the country’s capital.
The Beechcraft Baron 55 (BB-55) trainer aircraft carrying Abdullah Khalid Al-Sharif, a student at the Orient Flying School, and his Filipino teacher, Capt. Jose Nelson Yapparcon, vanished from radar while on training flight two weeks ago.
The twin-engine BB-55 disappeared shortly after takeoff from San Jose airport at 8.13 a.m. on May 17.
Eric Apolonio, a Philippines Civil Aviation Authority spokesman, said a sonar search had covered 2,000 ha of ocean to a depth of 800 meters, but had found no sign of the missing aircraft.
“At this point, search operations are ongoing, but tomorrow we will re-assess to decide the next step,” Apolonio told Arab News.
The Saudi embassy in Manila said in a statement late on Sunday that it had sent a high-level delegation to the area to help plan the next phase of the search.
The search could be moved to areas of the island that are home to insurgents, including the New People’s Army, an armed group with links to the Philippines Communist Party.
Relatives of the missing pilot had left the area and returned to Manila because of the security situation, the embassy said.
Apolonio said the flying school operator, the Orient Aviation Corp., will decide when to end the search.
“Our (CAAP) mandate is to undertake the investigation,” he said.
Computer-generated sonar information gathered in the search has been brought to Cebu for analysis by the sonar operator, he said.
“All the images that registered during the search on their computer have been submitted for analysis. So, depending on the results, we will know the next steps by tomorrow,” said Apolonio.
“We’re still hoping that the two men will be found safe,” he said.
Apolonio offered an assurance that CAAP Security and Intelligence Service personnel and representatives from the Saudi embassy are working closely with Orient Aviation.
Saudi diplomats “have been assured that all concerned authorities are working around the clock,” he said.