By Izza Reynoso

GEARING UP. A Philippine Air Force crew readies their Sokol 925 helicopter and rescue gear before taking off from Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa on Friday (Jan. 26, 2024). The PAF has joined several government agencies to help search for a missing boat and its seven passengers that disappeared while headed for Araceli town. (Photo courtesy of the Tactical Operations Wing West, PAF)

PUERTO PRINCESA, Palawan – Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Philippine Air Force (PAF) personnel on Friday jointly launched a massive search and rescue operation for seven individuals aboard a motorized “banca” (boat) believed to have been driven off course by violent ocean conditions while navigating the Sulu Sea en route to mainland Palawan.

The boat, along with its passengers, left Calandagan Island on Jan. 24 and was headed for the coastal municipality of Araceli when it was reported missing Thursday. Calandagan is a four-square-kilometer island village under the jurisdiction of Araceli town but separated by a stretch of ocean.

The PCG identified the missing individuals as Roberto Bacolod, Aljon Edar, Jan Paalan, Jackie Paalan, Thomas Vigonte, Roque Lohan, and Alfredo Abad, all residents of Calandagan.

Ensign Chrieson Dave Gabayan, who heads the Public Affairs Office of PCG-Palawan, said the missing boat may have been carried out into the waters off Roxas municipality due to strong winds and waves.

He noted that upon receiving the report of the missing boat on Thursday, the PCG quickly sought assistance from the PAF, which quickly responded by allocating a Sokol 925 helicopter for an aerial search.

The PCG dispatched its BRP Melchora Aquino, a 317-foor multi-role response vessel, to comb the ocean surface for the missing craft.

“PCG stations in the Araceli area, along with neighboring barangays, have been placed on heightened alert to optimize the scope of search operations and hasten the discovery of the missing motor banca and its passengers,” he said. (PNA)