THE bodies of four passengers on board the Cessna aircraft that went missing in Albay over the weekend have already been found, Camalig town Mayor Carlos Baldo said Thursday, February 23, 2023.

In a radio interview, Baldo said the bodies were found near the wreckage of the airplane, near the crater of Mayon Volcano.

“Nandun lang sila sa may pinagbagsakan pero hindi doon sa loob ng eroplano,” he said.

(They were just there at the crash site but not inside the plane.)

He said the retrieval operation is ongoing.

Baldo said that due to difficult terrain that makes the use of aircraft impossible, rescuers will have to walk for around four hours to bring down the bodies from the crash site.

He said the remains of the crash victims would be brought down the volcano on Thursday, February 23.

Baldo said the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) will be the one to deal with the ill-fated aircraft.

More than a dozen Army troops and firefighters were dropped off from an air force helicopter Wednesday morning, February 22, then they hiked to the crash site on a gully on Mayon volcano’s slope, CAAP officials said.

In a statement, Energy Development Corporation (EDC) President and Chief Operating Officer Richard Tantoco identified the four individuals who perished in the incident as Captain James Crisostomo, the pilot and an EDC employee; Joel Martin, also an employee of the company; Simon Chipperfield, advisor; and Karthi Santhanam, a consultant.

“We stand in compassion and deep sorrow with the families of our fallen kapamilyas in this unthinkable tragedy. We are working with authorities to bring them home to their loved ones where they may rest in peace,” said Tantoco.

The EDC deployed teams backed by helicopters and drones to help in the search, which was hampered by heavy rains, gusty wind and thick clouds.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, who was in Manila on Wednesday for talks with Philippine officials, expressed his condolences to the families of the crash victims before the deaths were confirmed by Baldo later in the day.

Baldo oversaw the search for the Cessna aircraft by nearly 200 army troops, firefighters and volunteers, including veteran mountaineers.

“Can I just express my condolences to both Australian and Filipino families of those who died in the very tragic plane accident?” Marles asked Philippine defense chief Carlito Galvez Jr. in a news conference in Manila.

He thanked all those who helped in the search, including two soldiers who were shot and killed by suspected communist guerrillas on Monday, February 20, while buying supplies in a market in Camalig, military officials said.

“It is a moment where the really personal nature of the relationship between our two countries is very manifest and felt very profoundly,” said Marles, who also serves as Australia’s defense minister.

The Cessna 340A with tail number RP-C2080 went missing on Saturday, February 18, while en route to Manila.

Contact with the plane was lost a few minutes after it took off from Albay’s international airport for the hourlong flight to Manila. The wreckage was spotted in an aerial search on Sunday, February 19, on the slope of the 8,077-foot (2,462-meter) volcano but an air force helicopter only managed to ferry the search team near the crash site Wednesday morning after the weather improved.

Only the tail section of the plane remained intact with the rest of the wreckage scattered on the barren upper slopes of the volcano, said Eric Apolonio, spokesperson of CAAP.

Villagers are normally prohibited from entering a permanent danger zone six kilometers (3.7 miles) around the volcano, which last erupted in 2018, displacing tens of thousands of people.

But the volcano-monitoring agency allowed the high-risk search and rescue effort on Mayon, one of the country’s 24 most active volcanoes, with a warning for the team members to be alert for sudden emission of volcanic ash and gas or sudden mudflows if rain fell on the slopes. (With AP/SunStar Philippines)