Rescuers climb Philippine volcano to reach plane crash site

In a “extremely difficult operation,” Filipino rescue teams started climbing an active volcano on Tuesday to reach the wreckage of a tiny plane that crashed over the weekend, according to officials.

The Cessna 340, which was carrying four people, including two Australians, went missing early on Saturday morning after departing for Manila from Bicol International Airport in the central province of Albay, some distance from Mayon volcano.

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Civil aviation investigators on board a reconnaissance flight on Tuesday verified that the missing plane’s wreckage was the one seen on the volcano over the weekend.

It is not known if there are any survivors.

Energy Development Corporation, based in Manila, previously claimed ownership of the missing aircraft. The technical advisers for the renewable energy company were Aussies.

Attempts to get to the crash site have been impeded by rain, clouds, and the possibility of an eruption.

The plane was reportedly 1,070 to 1,200 meters (1,500 to 4,000 feet) above sea level, on the western flank of the volcano, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP).

According to CAAP spokesman Eric Apolonio, the wreckage was identified using a high-resolution camera.

Attempts to lower rescue teams to the crash site by helicopter were aborted Tuesday due to strong winds and cloud cover, officials said.

Instead, search and rescue teams, including veteran mountaineers, began making the steep climb on foot.

According to Carlos Baldo, mayor of the nearby Camalig municipality, which includes the crash site, they had planned to camp out overnight and arrive to the crash site on Wednesday.

The country’s most active volcano, Mayon, last erupted in 2018, spilling tons of ash, boulders, and lava in the process. Its slopes are not accessible to everyone.

Teresito Bacolcol, the head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, issued a warning that a “steam-driven eruption or a rockfall” was possible.

“It’s a very risky operation,” Bacolcol told AFP.

“If they are willing to take the risk, only professionally trained and experienced personnel should be involved.”

George Cordovilla, one of the mountaineers involved in the rescue effort, has climbed Mayon several times in the past and told AFP it was a difficult ascent.

“It could easily erode and trigger rockfalls even if there’s no eruption. Some are caused by wind, water or rain,” he said.

Another Cessna plane went missing on January 24 in the northern province of Isabela. That plane’s wreckage has still not been found, Apolonio said.

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