MANILA, Philippines – The body of Philippine Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo was found and retrieved early Tuesday from the sea off a central province where his small plane had crashed three days earlier, officials said.
Robredo's body was pulled out from the overturned fuselage of the twin-engine Piper Seneca, about 55 meters (180 feet) underwater and around 800 meters (yards) off Masbate province, Transport Secretary Mar Roxas said.
Roxas said the bodies of the plane's Filipino pilot and Nepali student pilot were jammed inside the cockpit and would be retrieved later.
"At 7:25 this morning, our volunteer divers found the fuselage with bodies inside," a visibly emotional Roxas, his voice breaking, told reporters in Masbate.
Robredo, 54, was heading to his hometown of Naga City on Saturday from central Cebu City, where he had met with local officials, when one of the plane's engines stalled 30 minutes into the flight. The plane crashed as it attempted an emergency landing at the Masbate airport, about 380 kilometers (235 miles) southeast of Manila, Roxas had said earlier.
An aide of Robredo made a dramatic escape from the plane as it sank and was rescued by fishermen and later helped in the search, Roxas said.
The massive search involving 600 coast guard, police and military personnel backed by dozens of civilians ended after a foreign deep sea volunteer diver saw the wreckage.
Roxas said the divers would have to retrieve the bodies of the pilot and student pilot later because they needed time for decompression after diving that deep. He said the diver was able to retrieve Robredo's body because it was close to the plane's door.
President Benigno Aquino III informed Robredo's wife only after "absolute confirmation" of his identity from a personal friend of Robredo who had coordinated the volunteer divers, Roxas said. Aquino later flew to Masbate.
As interior secretary, Robredo was in charge of the national police and provincial governments.
Robredo was popular for his reformist views and policies and clean image that were prominent since he entered politics as Naga City's mayor in 1988, deviating from the political patronage and corruption that characterized traditional politicians. He won a Ramon Magsaysay award — regarded as Asia's version of a Nobel Prize — in 2000 for good governance.
"Jesse has passed. The nation has lost one of her finest servant-leaders. Join us in mourning and tribute," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda wrote on his Twitter account Tuesday.