4 passengers of crashed Cessna plane in Albay confirmed dead

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 23) — All four passengers of the Cessna plane that crashed near Mayon Volcano’s crater in Albay were confirmed dead, an official said Thursday, days after the aircraft went missing and search operations were launched.

Camalig Mayor Carlos Irwin Baldo confirmed to CNN Philippines that the bodies of the two Filipino crew members and two Australian nationals were located Wednesday afternoon.

Authorities earlier identified those onboard as pilot Capt. Rufino James T. Crisostomo Jr., crewman Joel G. Martin — both employees of local geothermal firm Energy Development Corporation (EDC) — and the company's Australian technical consultants Simon Chipperfield and Karthi Santhanam.

According to Baldo, the retrieval team that climbed the slopes of the volcano is expected to finish bringing down the remains today.

He said additional responders were deployed late Wednesday night to assist in the retrieval operation, which – considering the rough terrain – is estimated to take a total of 12 hours. It includes the trek to and from the crash site.

In a press briefing, the mayor said 179 people have been deployed — including mountaineers, uniformed personnel, and local officials — although he clarified not all have joined the hike.

The aircraft took off from Bicol International Airport for Manila at 6:43 a.m. on Saturday and lost contact with the air traffic control at 6:46 a.m.

It was located a day after, with aviation authorities positively identifying the wreckage on Tuesday in a restricted zone on the volcano, which is currently under Alert Level 2 or “moderate unrest.”

RELATED: Weather, terrain hamper operations for Cessna plane crash in Mayon

Officials said the families of the victims have already been notified of the news.

The EDC also issued a statement mourning the deaths of its personnel.

“We stand in compassion and deep sorrow with the families of our fallen Kapamilyas [colleagues] in this unthinkable tragedy. We are working with authorities to bring them home to their loved ones where they may rest in peace,” the company wrote.

Investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) earlier said the Cessna may have gone off track, noting it is less likely that the cause of the incident was aircraft failure or lack of experience of the pilot. 

CAAP Deputy Director General for Operations Edgardo Diaz said the plane was issued a certificate of airworthiness, and the pilot was a veteran.

Meanwhile, officials at the press briefing said the crashed Cessna did not have a “black box” or a flight data recorder on board because it did not meet weight requirements to be equipped with one.

The black box is installed in an aircraft to aid authorities in the investigation of aviation accidents. It logs flight path, altitude, airspeed, engine temperature, and radio transmissions and sounds made in the cockpit.

Ang black box, required depende sa number of passengers sa aircraft,” Albay Public Safety Emergency Management Office Chief Cedric Daep told CNN Philippines’ Balitaan on Thursday.

Daep added: “Ang sabi diyan ng mga piloto, saka ng CAAP na kinonsult natin wala naman daw pong black box ang Cessna plane."

[Translation: A black box is required depending on the number of passengers in an aircraft…We consulted with pilots and the CAAP and they said the Cessna did not have one.]

It was the second recent crash involving a Cessna plane in the country. Another one reported missing in Isabela in January has not yet been found.