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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 3, 11:54 a.m.) Three days after his plane crashed Saturday, the body of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo was recovered early Tuesday, Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II announced in Masbate City.
President Bengino Aquino III has arrived in Masbate City on board a C-130 plane. An Army truck carrying the secretary's brother Butch Robredo and the remains of the secretary arrived at the Masbate City Airport. A metal casket from the truck has been transferred to a transport plane to be brought to Naga City.
Earlier, in a tearful press conference, Roxas said Robredo's body was recovered 800 meters from shore at a depth of about 180 feet. He was found in the fuselage of the ill-fated Piper Seneca.
"May malungkot tayong balita (We have sad news),” Roxas told reporters in Masbate City. "At 7:25 this morning, yung mga volunteer divers natin nakita yung fuselage. May mga katawan sa loob pero hindi pa nila talaga ma-identify. Nung nakalapit sila at about 7:45 a.m., may mga indications na isa duon sa mga katawan sa loob ng fuselage ay kay (They saw some bodies which they couldn’t identify. When they were able to get closer, there were indications that the body inside the fuselage was that of) Sec. Robredo...that was at 7:45."
At 8:15 a.m., divers were able to confirm that one of the bodies inside the wreck was that of Robredo. His body was surfaced at roughly 8:30 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. He was placed in a body bag and transported on board a Coast Guard vessel.
Roxas fought back tears as he told reporters that President Bengino Aquino III himself was informed and wanted "absolute confirmation." He said the President was "very quiet" and when he had received confirmation, he immediately called up Robredo's wife, Maria Leonor “Leni” Gerona Robredo, in Naga City and personally told her that her husband has been retrieved.
"Nakausap na ng Pangulo ang misis ni Jess at ininform na nya about the developments. Si kuya Butch (Robredo, Jesse's brother) nasabihan na rin at dinadala siya kung saan ngayon yung katawan," Roxas said.
Roxas said the fuselage, or the plane's main body section that holds passengers, was overturned when it was discovered by technical divers.
"Yung fuselage nakabaligtad kaya mejo komplikado ang pag-retrieve dahil di masyado madisturb ang fuselage at baka mapunta ito sa lalong mas malalim na lugar," he said. Robredo's body was the easiest to retrieve as it was the closest to the divers.
Divers also found the bodies of pilot Capt. Jessup Bahinting and his co-pilot Nepalese Kshitz Chand. Retrieval operations are currently underway. Roxas said the two pilots were closest to the dashboard of the cockpit, specifically in the deepest part of the cockpit.
With this development, Roxas formally announced that operations have shifted from search and rescue to search and retrieval.
Roxas said Robredo's body will be brought to his hometown in Naga City and appealed to media not to rush to Robredo's body.
"Very, very maselan itong (delicate) retrieval operation na ito. Jess has been underwater for more than two days now so hindi basta bastang…yung change in pressure and atmosphere. It’s very complicated. We are seeking help of Army, Navy and PNP forensics people and DoH people para ma-preserve yung katawan," Roxas said.
Robredo's body will be flown back to his hometown in Naga City where his family and friends await him. Radio reports said the Robredo home momentarily closed its doors to visitors and the media when the family learned of the sad news.
In his official Twitter account, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda tweeted: "Jesse has passed. The nation has lost one of her finest servant-leaders. Join us in mourning and tribute."