The United States military has dispatched a ship to help in the search and retrieval operation for the ill-fated C-130 Hercules cargo plane that crashed in the Davao Gulf Monday night.
Capt. Rosauro Arnel Gonzales, commander of Task Force C-130 Hercules, said the arrival of the US vessel would boost efforts in confirming the exact location of the crash site, which was estimated at about 2.5 kilometers (km) from barangay Bucana, Davao City.
Maj. Gerardo Zamudio, Philippine Air Force information chief, said the US vessel was the USNS John McDonnell.
?What we see now is the suspected crash site. The survey ship will be a big help in confirming the exact location of the fuselage,? he said.
According to the website of the US Navy?s Military Sealift Command, the USNS John McDonnell is an oceanographic survey ship, collecting data in coastal regions around the world. The data collected helps improve technology in undersea warfare, enemy ship detection and charting the world?s coastlines.
Also, Gonzales said an echo-sounder was lent to the Air Force yesterday by San Andres Fishing, a fishing company based in General Santos City, to help in retrieval operations.
As of Friday, search and rescue teams from the task force only managed to recover metal fragments, human body parts, tattered fabric and documents from the ill-fated aircraft, which was carrying 11 people, including the two pilots.
?We continue to exert our best effort to mobilize everything to detect and retrieve the fuselage,? Gonzales said.
But the lack of sophisticated equipment has been hampering retrieval operations, he added.
?We welcome organizations that will be able to lend us side(-scan) sonar. If someone could lend us one, it would greatly help in retrieval operations,? he said.
Air Force Crash investigators have accepted that no one on board the cargo plane survived the crash.
Also, Maj. Armand Rico, spokesperson of the military?s Eastern Mindanao Command based in Davao City, confirmed that there were 11 people on board the aircraft, not nine as previously reported.
The two other persons were members of the Army?s Scout Rangers: Cpl. Bernie Sabangan Master Sgt. Remegio Lebres.
The two soldiers were among the 80 Scout Rangers the plane picked up from Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija and brought to Davao City.
The two stayed with the plane as it left Davao for Iloilo City to pick up members of the Presidential Security Group before heading to Manila.
They were on a mission to look after the Scout Rangers? radio equipment on the return trip to Manila, said Air Force operations chief and crash investigator Col. Roy Deveraturda.
Meanwhile, emotions ran high as a Holy Mass was held yesterday at the chapel of the Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base in Lapu-Lapu City, dedicated to the ongoing search and recovery operations for survivors of the crash.
Families and colleagues of the missing crew cried throughout the Mass.
In his homily, Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak said hope should not be lost despite reports that there was little possibility of finding survivors.
?Continued prayer may just bring your loved ones back into your arms,? said Tumulak, head of the chaplaincy of all military camps in the country.
Later in the Mass, Tumulak shook the hands of the grieving families to offer them peace. As the bishop returned to the altar, he too shed tears. After the Mass Tumulak told them that the church and military chaplains were available if they needed someone to talk to.
While military chaplains were told to take time for the families, Tumulak said their primary directive was to give support to troops, especially those engaged in combat with extremists in Mindanao.
?The soldiers give their lives for the country, that?s why we also do all we can for them spiritually, to give moral support,? Tumulak said.
The bishop said he, too, was hurt by comments that the aircraft of the Philippine Air Force were ?flying coffins? or ?widowmakers,? reputations gained from crashes of military aircraft.
?Those aircraft aren?t allowed to fly if they?re not fit to fly,? he said, urging the public and the media to stop placing defamatory labels on the country?s military aircraft.
The country?s only remaining C-130 Hercules transport plane is back in the skies after being grounded and inspected following the crash of its sister plane, said Col. Gerardo Jamorabo, director of the 220th Airlift Wing.
The aircraft left the Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base yesterday at 8:11 a.m. for Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. From there, it will proceed to Cagayan carrying troops and supplies for the conflict in Mindanao.
The aircraft was piloted by Capt. Eric Agatip, with Capt. Rommel Padere as co-pilot. INQUIRER WITH CORRESPONDENT CARINE M. ASUTILLA