Rescue workers in the Philippines are climbing an active volcano in a “very risky operation” to reach the wreckage of a small plane that crashed over the weekend with four people on board, officials said.
The four, including two Australians, were flying in a Cessna 340 aircraft when it went missing on Saturday morning after taking off for Manila from Bicol International Airport in the central province of Albay, several kilometres from Mount Mayon volcano.
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Civil aviation investigators on board a reconnaissance flight on Tuesday confirmed that the wreckage of a plane spotted near the crater of the volcano was the missing Cessna.
It was not known if there are any survivors.
Manila-based Energy Development Corporation said previously that the missing plane belonged to the company. The two Australians were technical consultants for the renewable energy company.
Rain, clouds and the risk of a volcanic eruption have hampered efforts to reach the crash site over the weekend and on Monday.
Mayon is currently under the second of five volcano alert levels, meaning volcanic earthquakes, steam and gas emissions, ground deformation and intermittent ash and steam blasts have been sporadically detected. Alert five means a major and deadly volcanic eruption is under way.
Local media organisation GMA News said the crash site was located within the volcano’s “permanent danger zone (PDZ)”.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) on Tuesday said aerial search is needed to confirm if the debris of an aircraft shown in a photo of Mayon Volcano belongs to the Cessna plane that went missing on Saturday.https://t.co/oDjBubofUf
— GMA News (@gmanews) February 21, 2023
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said the plane was on the western slope of the volcano, about 3,500 to 4,000 feet (1,070 metres to 1,200 metres) above sea level. Mayon volcano is 2,462 metres (8,077 feet) high.
A high-resolution camera was used to positively identify the wreckage, CAAP spokesman Eric Apolonio said.
Attempts to lower rescue teams to the crash site by helicopter were aborted on 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.
They were expected to camp overnight and reach the crash site on Wednesday, said Carlos Baldo, mayor of Camalig municipality, which overlaps the crash site.
Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines and last erupted in 2018, spewing tonnes of ash, rocks and lava. Access to its slopes is restricted.
Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology director Teresito Bacolcol warned there was a risk of a “steam-driven eruption or a rockfall”.
“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.
Separately, a single-engine Cessna plane that went missing on January 24 with six people on board in the northern Philippine province of Isabela remained missing.
Officials said a search for the plane was continuing on and off, depending on the weather, in a remote mountainous hinterland in Isabela.