Hong Kong (CNN) Philippine authorities on Monday launched a search mission atop a volcano after discovering the suspected wreckage of a missing plane carrying two Australians along with a Filipino pilot and crew member.
The six-seater Cessna 340 plane was en route to the capital Manila when it lost contact with air traffic control on Saturday after leaving Bicol International Airport in Albay province, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said.
The two Australians – Simon Chipperfield and Karthi Santhanam – were technical consultants working for Energy Development Corp., a geothermal firm based in Manila, the company confirmed in a statement.
“It is now the fourth day since they have gone missing and given the terrain and the harsh weather, it is a difficult and challenging situation … we continue to hope and pray that we will find them,” Allan Barcena, the company’s assistant deputy director. president and spokesman, told CNN on Tuesday.
In the statement, the company said its emergency response team had located wreckage at an altitude of about 6,000 feet (1,823 meters) near Mount Mayon, which last erupted in 2018, on Sunday.
Authorities were still working to reach the wreckage and confirm that it belongs to the missing plane, CAAP spokesman Eric Apolonio told state broadcaster PTV on Monday.
“We only have aerial images – the drone shots – but we cannot confirm if it is the said aircraft. Our accident investigators need to see the actual crash site on the ground,” Apolonio said.
“We need to find the plane first before we can determine what caused the crash.”
The wreckage is near a “permanent danger site” and a designated “no-fly zone” around the volcano, and rescue teams have received permission from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology to begin the high-risk search operations, he said. Heavy rain and the risk of landslides have made the search more difficult.
More than 200 personnel along with 34 vehicles, 11 drones and four K9 dogs were deployed in the joint search and rescue operation to reach the plane in the remote volcano, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.
When Mount Mayon last erupted, it spewed ash and lava flows, forcing tens of thousands of villagers to evacuate. The volcano’s most devastating eruption took place in 1814 when at least 1,200 people were killed.
HK Yu, Australia’s ambassador to the Philippines, said on Twitter that the embassy is in contact with the Philippine authorities and is providing consular assistance to the families of the two Australians.
“Unfortunately, we are aware that two Australians were reported to be on the light aircraft that disappeared in Albay province in the Philippines on Saturday, February 18,” Yu said. “Our thoughts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of all those affected.