Sabotage ruled out in missing chopper
By Joel Guinto
First Posted 13:17:00 04/08/2009
MANILA, Philippines – Authorities have ruled out sabotage in the case of a presidential helicopter that has gone missing in the north, saying it was “very remote” given tight security.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was not scheduled to board the Bell 412 since it was only a back-up aircraft.
Five Malacañang staff were on board the helicopter – press undersecretary Jose Capadocia, appointments secretary Marilou Frostrom, director Perlita Bandayanon from the Presidential Management Staff, Senior Military Aide to the President Brigadier General Carlos Clet, Clet’s aide Petty Officer 1 Demy Reyno.
Major Rolando Sacatani was the pilot with Captain Alvin Alegata as co-pilot.
“Definitely, we have ruled out that angle,” Philippine Air Force (PAF) Chief Lieutenant General Oscar Rabena told a news conference at the Palace, when asked if investigators were eyeing sabotage.
Asked why sabotage was being ruled out, Rabena said: “Because the presidential helicopters are well secured. They have guards in place, and it is very remote that a saboteur was able to come near the choppers.”
Rabena said the PAF had “no idea” yet on why the Bell 412 went missing. Reports said the aircraft encountered bad weather after it took off from the Loakan Airport in Baguio City, near the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) at around 4:20 p.m. Tuesday.
The group was set to conduct an ocular inspection of the Halzema Highway in Banaue town, Ifugao province ahead of Arroyo’s visit there, which was eventually cancelled.
The President is staying at her vacation house in Baguio City, monitoring the search and rescue operations, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said.
As standard operating procedure, Rabena said all Bell 412 helicopters in the PAF’s inventory have been grounded, and the President would use other aircraft in the meantime.
Meanwhile, a mass was held at noon Wednesday at the Palace briefing room, across Capadocia’s office to pray for the group’s safety.
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