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Rescuers for missing Cessna passengers in Mt. Mayon facing multiple threats

by Malou Talosig-Bartolome

RESCUERS for the missing four passengers of an ill-fated Cessna plane are facing multiple threats as they trekked a violent Mayon Volcano today, February 21.

Two Filipinos and two Australians were on board the Cessna 340 aircraft that crashed near the crater of Mt. Mayon. The wreckage was spotted by a foreign search and rescue volunteer. But the passengers are still missing.

The subjects of the search are Cessna pilot Captain Rufino James Crisostomo Jr., crew Joel Martin, Australian technical consultants Simon Chipperfield and Karthi Santhanam of the Energy Development Corporation (EDC).

Camalig Mayor Caloy Baldo, who leads the rescue teams, said the first batch of rescuers left around 11 am today. They are veteran mountaineers from the Federation of Bicol Mountaineers and Mountaineering Federation.

Rep. Joey Salceda said there have been three attempts today but “failed to reach” the wreckage site due to bad weather.

Photo of the wreckage of Cessna Plane | photo from Facebook Page of Camalig Mayor Caloy Baldo

Active volcano

Paul Karson Alanis, resident volcanologist of the Philippine Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) for Mayon, said the volcano is acting up and may spew “phreatic eruptions” anytime.

Since 2020, Mt. Mayon is under Alert Level 2, which means that there are low to moderate levels of seismic activities monitored.

The wreckage is approximately 350 kilometers away from the mouth of the volcano.

“The plane is inside the permanent danger zone so delikadong-delikado yun. We advise them (rescue team) na it’s very dangerous na pumanhik dun,” Alanis said.

However, Phivolcs could not stop the rescuers from going inside the permanent danger zone.

“These are very extenuating circumstances. That would be the call of the local government unit and rescuers natin kung itutuloy nila,” Alanis told republicasia.

There is also a remote possibility that rescuers would encounter “volcanic fog” or noxious sulfur dioxide near the summit. 

“Ang maganda sa Mayon kasi mataas sya. Nag-dissipate agad ang volcanic gases. Pero of course at that level, baka malanghap nila na yung sulfur dioxide,” he said. He recommended that rescuers bring masks and other equipment to protect them from the poisonous gasses.

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Steep terrain, high altitude, weather

The EDC Emergency Response Team is helping the rescuers and they estimated that the location of the wreckage of their company plane was located at a “very steep terrain” and high altitude of about 6,000 feet from sea level.

“The team is now making adjustments in its rescue plan in order to address the combination of challenges posed by the steep terrain, high altitude, unfavorable weather conditions,  in addition to Mount Mayon being under Alert Level 2,” the EDC said.

Video of the western side of Mt. Mayon where the wreckage of the Cessna plane was spotted | video taken by Perry Saculsan from Facebook of Albay Rep. Joey Salceda

Phivolcs said aside from the altitude and steep angle of the mountain, it would be difficult to trek the area because the land is porous from the constant rains.

“Our efforts remain focused on the safe rescue of the four passengers and we will not stop until they are found,” said Atty. Allan V. Barcena, Assistant Vice President and head of Corporate Relations and Communications at EDC.

Responders from Camalig’s  Barangay Quiragay Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Council (BDRRMC), the Philippine Army, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and EDC have been deployed through two search and rescue teams that resumed their search Monday morning.

EDC has also tapped the ERTs from Bacon Manito (BacMan) geothermal facility in Bicol, Leyte, Negros, and Mount Apo geothermal facilities.

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