Nepalese pilot's body found floating in Masbate

Thea Alberto-Masakayan
Yahoo! Southeast Asia Newsroom

(UPDATE 4) Retrieval operations formally close after the recovery of the Nepalese flight student Kshitiz Chand, whose body was found floating off the crash site in Masbate.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said crash probe, to be led by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, will now start.

As Chand's father confirms that the recovered body was indeed of the Nepalese co-pilot, Gazmin said the Philippine government will help the Chand family transport the body back to Nepal.

This development comes hours after divers successfully recovered pilot Jessup Bahinting's body inside the plane.

"The body of Capt. Jessup Bahinting has just been recovered from the wreckage. It was positively identified by his brother, Orson Bahinting," according to a post from President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III's Facebook page.

Earlier reports say Bahinting was wearing a striped blue shirt and was tightly held by the plane's seatbelt. Whereabouts of Nepalese flight student Kshitiz Chand's body was a mystery until Thursday morning, as divers were quoted as saying that only Bahinting's body was found in the plane fuselage.

"The Nepalese [was] not found inside the plane," DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas noted in his Twitter account.

Bahinting was recovered after an initial failed attempt Wednesday noon, as technical divers lifted the plane fuselage to a shallower level by Wednesday afternoon, making it easier for divers to retrieve the body, said Roxas.

Earlier in the day, Major General Eduardo Del Rosario, head of Task Force Kalihim, said dive experts, including Korean volunteer divers, will help retrieve the Piper Seneca plane which earlier government statements say was located at depths of 180-feet in Masbate.

"Our level of confidence is very high," said Del Rosario in a televised press conference.

The pilots, Bahinting and Chand, were at the plane cockpit while Robredo was found in the passenger seat. Robredo was the first to be taken out as his position was the easiest to access, DOTC Mar Roxas said Tuesday.

Del Rosario said as of 9:30 that they already concluded rehearsals and that the actual dive is scheduled at 10:30.

"[It could be done by] 35 minutes, it means to say by 11:15 we can announce whether we are successful or not successful," said Del Rosario, noting that strong current might make the operations harder.

"We shifted to the use of purely compressed gas and not all divers can dive using just compressed gas," he added.

He said divers will attach ropes to the tail of the aircraft.

"Once securely attached, aircraft will be lifted in about 34-33 meters," said Del Rosario.

National Days of mourning

Meanwhile, President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has signed Proclamation No. 460 s. 2012, proclaiming August 21 until Robredo's interment National Days of Mourning.

This entails that the national flag will be at half-mast from sunrise to sunset in all government offices and landmarks, even posts in abroad for six days.

"Furthermore, from today, August 21, 2012 until the date of internment, the national flag shall be lowered to half-mast in Malacañan Palace, the City of Naga, and in all offices and installations of the DILG, BFP, BJMP, LGA, NAPOLCOM, PNP and PPSC," the proclamation said.

The Committee on Funeral Arrangements said public viewing of Robredo's remains in Naga City will continue until Thursday. On Friday, Robredo's remains will be transported from Naga City to Malacañan Palace.

Secretary of Communications Ramon A. Carandang issued this schedule for those who want to pay respects to Robredo:

August 22, Wednesday

9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – Mass
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. – wake
5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Mass
6:00 p.m. onwards – wake

August 23, 2012, Thursday

9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – Mass
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. – wake
5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Mass
6:00 p.m. onwards – wake


(With reports from Kim Patria)