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Navy unit returns to Philippines to help find plane crash victims

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A U.S. Navy unit commissioned in the Philippines and relocated after the Vietnam War returned this week to help locate and recover the body of the Philippine interior secretary after a plane crash, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Manila said Tuesday.

Secretary of Interior and Local Government Jesse Robredo and two pilots, Capt. Jessup Bahinting and Kshitiz Chand, were reported missing Saturday after their small aircraft crashed about 500 yards off the coast of Masbate Island, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a Defense Department statement Monday. A fourth passenger, an aide to Robredo, survived.

Shortly after the crash, the Philippine government requested U.S. aid in search-and-rescue efforts, Little said. The U.S. provided initial aerial support. The Philippine government then sought underwater support as well, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta approved the request.

Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One, which was originally commissioned in Subic Bay in 1966 as Harbor Clearance Unit One and later relocated to Pearl Harbor, was dispatched to the area to aid in the search, according to U.S. Embassy Manila spokeswoman Tina Malone. The unit provided a remotely operated vehicle to aid the search.

Divers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines recovered Robredo’s body Tuesday morning, according to Malone and media reports. The three bodies were found in the plane in 180 feet of water.

“We will miss our friendship and partnership with Secretary Robredo, as he dedicated himself to bettering the lives of the Filipino people,” said a statement released Tuesday by the U.S. Embassy. “We stand with the people and government of the Philippines at this difficult time and are prepared to assist the Philippine government in the aftermath of this tragic accident.”

The relationship between U.S. and Philippine governments has grown closer in recent years due to mutual interests that include ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea with China flexing its naval muscles in the area, stamping out violent extremism in the Asia Pacific, and improving trade and investment.

burkem@pstripes.osd.mil

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