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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE, 11:46 a.m.) The United States has committed to send two US planes with deepwater maritime search capabilities in the search for Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, it was learned Sunday.
At the same time, four ships of the Philippine Navy are now taking part in the ongoing search-and-rescue operations for Robredo and two civilian pilots who went missing after their plane went down the waters off Masbate Saturday afternoon.
These are BRP Hilario Ruiz (PG-378), BRP Simeon Castro (PG-374), BRP Carlos Albert (PG-375), and DF-339.
One Islander aircraft is also supporting the search operations of the ships together with two diving teams with deep sea equipment.
The US government responded to the Philippines’ call for help and said that “as of 10:15 p.m. (Saturday), an airplane with Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) capability is expected to arrive over the site in two hours while the second airplane will come from Japan and will take five hours to reach the site.”
IFR capability refers to aircraft types that can handle deepwater maritime search and rescue operations in difficult weather conditions, the DILG said in a news release.
This details the earlier statement of Transportation and Communication Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, who said the United States Geological Survey (USGS) team will help in the search for missing Robredo, pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting, and student pilot Kshitiz Chand, a Nepalese.
"(As of 9 p.m., we) received and accepted an offer of help via US Naval Attache Capt. Jack Sutherland; the USG [USGS] has a Fleet Survey team," he said on his Twitter account.
Roxas said the USGS team is now heading toward the crash site.
As this developed, Roxas said that the depth of the search area is around 40 to 87 meters.
"Search area has depth of 40 to 87 meters. Human scuba can only do 10 minutes at 40 meters before nitrogen narcosis," he tweeted.
Nitrogen narcosis is a reversible alteration in consciousness that occurs while diving at depth.
It produces a state similar to alcohol intoxication or nitrous oxide inhalation, and can occur during shallow dives, but usually does not become noticeable until greater depths beyond 30 meters.
PNP divers are continuing rescue operations, as well as Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Coast Guard and rescue teams of the local government. The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC) has been activated, and the Bureau of Fire Protection, DILG regional and provincial directors are also helping.
The DILG Secretary was in Cebu earlier Saturday for the first founding anniversary of the Community Investigative Support (CIS) and National Summit. He was on his way to his hometown of Naga City when the plane crashed around 4 p.m. Saturday.
The DILG is grateful for the outpouring of support and assistance from local and barangay officials, the rescue teams, the Red Cross, private groups, individuals, and the media, it said in its news release.
Actually, Robredo’s aide Jun Abrazado was also on board of the plane but he reportedly jumped off the light plane before it crash in the sea off the Masbate City or 500 meters away from the Masbate airport.
DoTC chief Roxas said the search and rescue operations are still ongoing at the crash site.
"Diving search resumed using compressors. They have obtained compressors from the area," Roxas said.