by Recto Mercene
April 6, 2009
THE search for a missing twin-engine Britten Norman BN2 “Islander” plane reaches the sixth day on Monday, as Air Force helicopters vainly try to penetrate the thick mist surrounding the Sierra Madre Mountains, where RP-C764 was believed to have gone down last Tuesday.
The Air Force Tactical Operations Groups II and III based in Isabela and Tarlac, which sent four UH-IH “Huey” helicopters, reported that the search- and-rescue aircraft cannot fly through Dalton Pass, a deep valley between towering mountains that lead to Mercedes Mountain, according to Maj. Gerry Zamudio, Air Force spokesman, said.
This line of mountains forms the spine of the Cordillera Mountain range that extends from Quirino province in the south, all the way north up to Tuguegarao City in Cagayan province.
Mercedes Mountain is where the missing plane was reportedly sighted.
However, there was no positive confirmation of the report because some foot patrols who have allegedly reached the alleged spot where the plane was supposed to be found no trace of the missing aircraft.
On Tuesday RP-C764 left Tuguegarao Airport bound for Maconnacon some 35 minutes flying time away.
Onboard the plane were Capt. Tom Yañes. The copilot was Capt. Raineir Ruiz.
There were five other passengers onboard the missing nine-seater plane.
Maconnacon is a heavily forested area, surrounded by towering mountains, according to Capt. Sonny Jose, a veteran pilot who used to fly with Philippine Airlines and now an executive jet pilot for a local company.
He said two decades ago, Capt. Simplicio Ng, a former air-traffic controller-turned-pilot, also went missing flying from Cauayan, Isabela, to Maconnacon.
After 15 years, the wreckage of Ng’s Beechcraft “Baron” was eventually found, with the payroll money still intact but disintegrating because of the elements.
Jose pointed this out as a graphic example of how thick the vegetation in the area is—able to swallow a whole plane that could not be seen by search-and-rescue groups scouring from high up.
Even the native Dumagat tribesmen were not able to find Ng’s plane during the ensuing ground search-and-rescue operations that were participated in by the militaryand private groups hired by Ng’s employers.
Airport sources said at least 12 other light planes have disappeared in the area.
Other airport sources said that RP-C764 could have tried to fly below the clouds seeking a clear area looking for the tiny airstrip of Maconacon. However, some of these planes that have done the same tactic ended up on the shorelines of Isabela and at the mercy of the raging Pacific Ocean.
If that were the case, the airport sources said that RP-C764 could have lost its way and might have ditched in the sea.
Capt. Jose said that some private and military planes have met the same fate before and parts of their wreckage washed ashore after several weeks.