Saturday, April 25, 2009

42 in ChemTrad crash search team stranded

TUGUEGARAO CITY – Forty-two members of the team that retrieved the seven bodies from the ill-fated ChemTrad plane in Mt. Alas Diyes in Sitio (sub-village) Bayang in Baggao, Cagayan, remained stranded on Thursday because of floods from swollen rivers in the area.

Melchito Castro, regional civil defense chief, said the heavy rains triggered by the tail end of a cold front in Northern Luzon delayed the team’s return here.

He said two Huey helicopters that were supposed to airlift the team members failed to land in a designated pickup area because of the foul weather.

On Tuesday, Chief Superintendent Roberto Damian, Cagayan Valley police director, called off plans to airlift the members from the site where the twin-engine Islander owned by ChemTrad Aviation Corp. crashed. He said the “erratic” weather had made flying over the area very risky.

Damian, who is also chairman of the Cagayan Valley regional disaster coordinating council (RDCC), lauded the bravery and proficiency of Air Force pilots who flew into bad weather over the Sierra Madre mountains on Monday morning in what he described as a daring retrieval operation.

“I can say that though we have the best pilots around, who have the guts to fly the harshest missions, we just cannot take any more risks,” he said, halting plans of additional sorties to the site on Tuesday to get the rescuers.

The Britten-Norman BN2 plane, known as Islander, crashed in Mt. Alas Diyes in Sitio Bayang in Baggao on April 2, minutes after it took off from the airport here for Maconacon town in Isabela.

Rescuers found the wreckage only on April 14, 12 days after it was reported missing.

The pilot, Captain Tomas Z. Yañez, co-pilot Captain Reiner Ruiz, and passengers Senior Police Officer 2 Rolly Castaños, Celestino Salacup, Abelardo Baggay, Joel Basilio, and James Bakilan, died in the crash.

The retrieval of their bodies capped more than two weeks of search and rescue operations deep in the mountains of Sierra Madre.

Captain Mannie Barradas, ChemTrad owner and board chairman, said the crash site was 5,000 meters above sea level, on a thickly-forested ridge with a 60-degree slope.

Because airlifting them from the site was no longer possible, rescuers would have to walk for another day and a half to a river below the mountains where it was safer for them to be ferried by a helicopter, he said.

The rescuers, including mountaineers, and village volunteers, hiked for three to four days to reach the site.

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