[Updated 11:27 p.m.] Search and rescue efforts are underway for the helicopter that was reported missing Wednesday in the vicinity of Lumbucan Island, east of the island town of Balabac while conducting a medical evacuation mission.
An incident report released by the Palawan Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) placed the number of passengers at five, identifying them as pilot Daniel Lui, nurse Janelle Adler (American national), Kayrun Nesa Sahibad (patient), Nastru Sahibad, and Sug Hamja.
Earlier, Capt. Dennis Rem Labay, commander of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) District Palawan, said there were only four passengers aboard the chopper, which sources identified as an N45VX Alouette (also called the Yellow Bee).
PDRRMO chief Jerry Alili said late Wednesday night that since it was reported missing, personnel from the Philippine Adventist Medical Aviation Services, Inc (PAMAS), Balabac Municipal DRRMO, 2nd Special Operations Unit-Maritime Group, Marine Battalion Landing Team-4, PCG Balabac, the PCG, and private individuals, have set out to conduct search and rescue operations, but to no avail.
Lambay said that the area where it may have crashed was 65 kilometers (35 nautical miles) east of Balabac, however, according to PAMAS coordinates cited by the PDRRMO, it stopped transmitting location around 100 kilometers east of the island town.
“Bigo ang search and rescue team ng iba’t ibang ahensya ng lokal na pamahalaan sa Palawan sa paghahanap ng bumagsak na helicopter sa karagatang sakop ng Balabac,” he said.
“Maging ang grupo ng PAMAS ay nagsagawa din ng aerial search sa lugar pero wala rin silang nakita,” added Alili.
Alili also clarified that the pilot was last in communication at 9:28 a.m. after leaving Mangsee Island at 9:00 a.m. to transport Sahibad to Brooke’s Point for admission to the Southern Palawan Provincial Hospital (SPPH) due to several days of experiencing stomach pain.
He said the search teams would return to the site tomorrow to continue their work because vessels from the PCG and the Philippine Navy would be arriving to provide additional help.
PDRRMO will also set up a command center in Balabac to coordinate efforts to look for the helicopter and its passengers.
Labay had previously said that the PCG dispatched the multi-role response vessel BRP Malabrigo to help look for the missing helicopter. He anticipates that their ship will arrive in the island municipality before daylight.
“As of kanina, actually, malapit-lapit lang sa shoreline yon, mga alas 2:30 p.m. sila na ang nag-ano, and mga 4 p.m. naman namin na deploy yong BRP Malabrigo. Dito manggagaling sa Puerto, yong isa kasi na nasa Buliluyan, naka deploy sa West Philippine Sea,” he said.
“Hopefully, mga sunrise nandoon na sa area—marami kaming [natanggap] na reports na doon daw sa Lumbucan Island. Ita-try nilang i-scour yong area para ano—hopefully, makita,” he added.
“Most probably, is ang chopper nag-crash,” Labay said. “Pangit din kasi ang weather.”
A filmmaker and former missionary pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jakarta, Jasper Ivan Iturriaga, wrote on social media on March 1 around 3 p.m. that the helicopter had gone missing in Palawan.
“My brother Daniel’s helicopter was reportedly down in the middle of the ocean on the way to Brooke’s Point from Balabac in stormy conditions,” Iturriago stated.
“They were transporting a patient from an island off the coast of Brooke’s Point. Our team is currently doing search and rescue. Please pray for my brother Dan, our nurse Janelle, and their patient,” he added. (with a report from R. Rodriguez)