A presidential helicopter carrying six members of the advanced party of President Arroyo has gone missing during a flight to Ifugao province, a senior Palace official said Tuesday night.
President Arroyo immediately ordered a massive search and rescue for the missing Bell helicopter 412, which lost contact with air authorities after it took off from the Loakan Airport in Baguio City at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday en route to Banawe, Ifugao, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said.
Remonde said the President was “shaken” by the news that Press Undersecretary for Operations Jose Capadocia and five other Palace officials and security officers were among those on board but he remained optimistic that they are still safe. He said Capadocia left a message to one of his staff informing them the helicopter was looking for a place to land at past 5 p.m.
Apart from Capadocia, the other chopper passengers are the President's senior military aide Brig. Gen. Carlos Clet, Malacañang Appointments Secretary Marilou Frostrom, Presidential Management Staff Assistant Director Ferdie Pandayanon, and two pilots from the elite Presidential Airlift Wing – certain Major Zacatani and Capt. Aligata.
“The presidential helicopter went missing but we remain hopeful that they landed somewhere safely without any cellular phone signal,” Remonde said in a phone interview.
Remonde said the helicopter left Loakan Airport for a 30-minute flight to Banawe. The group was supposed to conduct an ocular inspection for the President’s visit in the area.
Earlier reports said that the chopper’s pilot was able to communicate through air traffic controllers, saying that they were experiencing zero visibility before he lost communication.
“We still have no contact, it might have landed somewhere in areas where there is no signal, where there is no cell site,” said Brigadier General Horacio Lapinid, commander of the 1st Air Division of the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
Lapinid said presidential son and Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo is not among those on board, to dispel earlier reports that he was among those on board.
Remonde, in a later interview over government-run Radyo ng Bayan, said the presidential helicopter was last heard passing over the town before the boundary of Banawe.