Twitter plea brings volunteer divers for search and rescue

(UPDATE 3) A plea for help on Twitter has resulted in more divers and equipment to help in the search-and-rescue operations for Local Secretary Jesse Robredo and pilots Jessup Bahinting and Kshitiz Chand off Masbate island.

According to Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who tweeted on Sunday to ask for help in getting equipment for deeper dives, three technical divers from Malapascua, Cebu have volunteered to help in operations. Two Australians and a Filipino diver have stepped forward to help, he said.

"They are certified divers and they even brought advanced equipment," he said over radio dzBB. He explained the divers brought a rebreather, which allows divers to stay underwater longer.

Without a rebreather, divers can stay at a depth of 200 feet for around 20 to 25 minutes, he said. With a rebreather, they can stay for up to 45 minutes. The target depth for dives on Monday is around 200 feet, Roxas said.

Roxas's plea on Twitter on Sunday was for help in finding trimix, or a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, and helium, needed for deeper dives. He tweeted that they were able to find double tanks and mixing equipment from Manila as well as helium from Cebu because of the plea for help.

Divers are expected to go down to around 300 feet under the sea off of Masbate island Monday morning to look for "metallic parts with letterings at deeper levels," Roxas said.

Late Sunday night, Roxas said a diver at 150 feet spotted "metallic parts with letterings at deeper levels" and that sonar equipment would focus on that area.

A U.S. plane equipped with forward-looking infrared, which helps detect heat against a cooler background, also flew over the area, he said. Input from the sonars will be used for the search pattern for Monday's operations, he said.

The search will be aided by eight Philippine Air Force helicopters flying along the coastal barangays in Masbate, according to President Benigno Aquino III's official Twitter account.

The President stayed overnight in Masbate to continue overseeing search and rescuer operations. The Palace said, however, that although finding Robredo and the two pilots is a priority, "the normal operations of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and its attached agencies, continue, and are unhampered by the ongoing rescue effort."

The Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy, Philippine Air Force, Philippine Navy, and the local government of Masbate have been conducting search and rescue operations for Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, and pilots Jessup Bahinting and Kshitiz Chand since Saturday. Their Piper Seneca plane crashed just short of Masbate on Saturday.

Family remains hopeful


Meanwhile, Robredo's family remains "hopeful as we brace ourselves for the worst," his wife, lawyer Leni Gerona-Robredo, said in a statement.

As the search and rescue operations for our beloved Sec. Jesse M. Robredo continue, we call upon all Naguenos, Bicolanos, and Filipinos to join us in prayer for the safety of the good Secretary and that of the two pilots as well.

According to news site Rappler.com, Mrs. Robredo said the family was "overwhelmed by the unbelievable outpouring of love and prayers for Jesse and our family."

She is in Naga City, Bicol with the rest of the Robredo family.

Aika Robredo, the secretary's daughter, meanwhile told reporters that she hoped for more definite news about her father by noon.

The government of Naga City, Bicol, which Robredo formerly served as mayor, meanwhile released this statement: "As the search and rescue operations for our beloved Sec. Jesse M. Robredo continue, we call upon all Naguenos, Bicolanos, and Filipinos to join us in prayer for the safety of the good Secretary and that of the two pilots as well."

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