Pilot’s Body Recovered From Plane Wreckage

MANILA, Philippines --- The body of the pilot of the light plane that crashed off Masbate City with Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo aboard has been retrieved, authorities announced Wednesday.

The body, which was still strapped in the plane's right seat, is that of the pilot, Capt. Jessup Bahinting, according to 9th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Julian Pacatan.

Authorities initially described the remains as "unrecognizable" but Bahinting's relatives identified it through a ring and a Fossil watch.

The recovery of the Bahinting's body came a day after divers retrieved the remains of Robredo from the Piper Seneca which plunged into the sea last Saturday.

That leaves only the co-pilot, Nepalese Kshitiz Chand, unaccounted for. Jun Abrazado, Robredo's aide, has survived the crash.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said a ship was able to pull the plane, which was upside down at a depth of 180 feet, to 68 feet late Wednesday.

There divers were able to recover the pilot's body.

Maj. Gen. Eduardo del Rosario, the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) chief, who also heads Task Force Kalihim, said it took two attempts before the wreckage was pulled to shallower waters.

He said that on the first try, the rope fastened to the wreckage came loose. Divers had to go down again to fasten another rope to the tail of the plane.

"The one holding was the original rope that was placed yesterday (Tuesday) so we now have two ropes attached to the tail of the aircraft, that rope saved our day," said Del Rosario.

Strong underwater currents delayed diving operations in the morning.

Naval Forces Southern Luzon chief Capt. Rommel Galang said the dive was aborted on the recommendation of diving supervisor Lt. Ares Camino. Diving operations resumed in the afternoon, when sea conditions improved.

Three of the divers are from the Philippine Navy and the rest are South Korean volunteer divers.

Diving operations were stopped on Tuesday after a German volunteer diver, Danny Brumbach, 31, suffered decompression sickness after making a very rapid ascent.

Brumbach has since recovered.

Close to 600 divers from government agencies and civilian groups took part in massive search for the missing plane.

Strong currents and poor visibility often hampered the divers.

Retrieval work at a depth of 100 meters requires specialized equipment such as trimix, a combination of oxygen, nitrogen and helium. Trimix enables divers to stay longer in deep water and minimizes the risk of decompression sickness (DCS) or bends.

Bends is caused by the formation of nitrogen bubbles form in a diver's bloodstream because of severe pressure underwater.

Open water and advance divers normally limit their activity on depths of 150 feet where they stay for less than 10 minutes using ordinary compressed air. (Additional reports from Aris Ilagan and PNA)

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