MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Searchers who hiked the slopes of a restive Philippine volcano to find the wreckage of a plane that crashed over the weekend confirmed the two Australian energy consultants and two Filipino crew members on board didn’t survive, the local mayor said.
More than a dozen army troops and firefighters were dropped off from an air force helicopter Wednesday morning, then they hiked to the crash site on a gully on Mayon volcano’s slope, civil aviation officials said. The Cessna 340 went missing after taking off Saturday.
“There were no survivors,” Mayor Carlos Baldo of Albay province’s Camalig town told The Associated Press in a cellphone message when asked about the fate of the four people onboard the plane. The remains of the crash victims would be brought down the volcano on Thursday, he said.
The two Australians were working as consultants for Energy Development Corp., a large geothermal power company, which owned the plane that was flown by a Filipino pilot with a crew member. The company 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. The mayor 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 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.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday reiterated Marles’ words of condolences and thanks.
“I do … want to thank the search teams who traveled into a relatively remote area in dangerous circumstances and weather … in order to undertake this task,” Albanese told reporters in the South Australia state capital, Adelaide.
“My heart goes out to people who were there visiting the Philippines who tragically won’t return to their families,” he added.
Albanese said the Australians killed were men who lived in Adelaide. He provided no other details about them. Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials were offering their families consular assistance, he said.
Contact with the plane was lost a few minutes after it took off from Albay’s international airport Saturday morning for the hourlong flight to the capital, Manila. The wreckage was spotted in an aerial search on Sunday 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, officials said.
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 the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.
Villagers are normally prohibited from entering a permanent danger zone 6 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.