505th SEARCH AND RESCUE GROUP
After the recent and the worst air accident in the country which claimed the lives of 104 passengers of the ill-fated DC-9 of the Cebu Pacific Flight 387, members of the elite Air Force 505th Search and Rescue Group cannot help but sigh and whisper prayers of thanks that the Almighty once again guided them to accomplish a mission that bring relief if not total consolation to the families of the crash victims. A sense of fulfillment was indeed the only thing that relieves them of the pains and hardships of the search and rescue operations.
But who are these rescuers? How do they feel? And what is 505th Search and Rescue Group? Since its activation in 1956 as a squadron under the PAFs 205th Tactical Operations Wing till its expansion as a Group, the 505th Search and Rescue Group has been a unit of the Philippine Air Force which remained true to its commitment as savior of the Filipino people. With its motto: THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE", it has indeed accomplished so much that earned recognition and gratitude from our fellowmen. With 505th SRG, feeling safe has never been this easy.
The year 1996 saw the expansion of 505th Search and Rescue Group into a major unit of the Air Force (with Col. Neon Ebuen as its first commander) tasked to conduct air search and rescue operations in support of the AFP and civilian agencies. On the forefront of its search and rescue operations are its three squadrons strategically deployed in Luzon - the 505Ist with an Advance post in Palawan, Visayas - 5052nd SRS and Mindanao - the 5053rd SRS.
For the past 40 years, the men and women of 505th have faced tremendous odds to pluck every single life that that they could get from the clutches of danger and sure death. These `Angels have been whipped by gale force of winds, threatened by foaming seas, battered by blinding rain, stretched to the limits by rampaging lahar. But, still they were always there for everyone.
Their exploits are legendary yet their faces are unknown to many, and oftentimes forgotten by those they have served and sometimes criticized by people who dont understand their sacrifices. To the great many, however, their deeds were always remembered. Thousands of our fellowmen have heard the chugging sounds of helicopter blades, felt the tug of strong hands, and tasted a second chance of life but no one really knows what these rescuers feel. No one really knows their thoughts, yet one thing is certain, they risked their lives by the single creed "THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE"
It was during the 90s when the 505th was put into the limelight. The successive typhoons that ravaged the country kept it on its toes, conducting search and rescue missions, sometimes even during strong winds, which endangered the lives of the rescuers. This was complicated even more, when lahar began its deadly descent from the slope of Mt. Pinatubo that greatly affected the lives and properties of our brothers in Pampanga. Almost every newspaper headlines carried with it vivid pictures and stories of daring rescues conducted by 505th rescuers on that part of the country..
Notable among the various rescue operations of 505th include rescue from a hot perch performed by a hovering helicopter at the rooftop of burning Ayala Building in 1971; rescue of 27 Vietnamese refugees who were entrapped in a logging vessel in Cabra Island in June 1987,; massive rescue operations and distribution of much-needed relief goods to tidal wave-stricken areas in Roxas City, Capiz and Panay Island in 1984; heli-lifting of unaccounted trapped persons on rooftop of burning Legaspi Towers in 1991; Search and Rescue of missing mountaineers in Mt. Makulot in 1992 and at Mt. Halcon in 1994; rescue and relief operation during a major earthquake that hit Baguio, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija and other parts of Central Luzon; aerial search and underwater recovery operations to the passengers of MV Viva Antipolo ship that sank off Dalahikan Bay in Lucena City.
The recent crash of the DC-9 Cebu Pacific plane which is considered one of the worst air accident in the country, once again put the "angels of mercy" on the go. Their abilities were once again put to the test with the conduct of rigid search and rescue operations for the victims of the ill-fated plane. Shunning personal safety, 505th men bravely and untiringly searched the steep and thickly-forested mountain of Mt. Sumagaya in Misamis Oriental with hopes of saving lives or recover anything that would bring consolation to the loved ones of the crash victims.
With the continuous onslaught of disasters in the country such as typhoons and lahar encroachment, occasional earthquakes, frequent sea mishaps and other natural calamities and man-made disasters, the Philippine Air Force is eyeing to equip 505th with heavier capacity aircraft which include round-the-clock, all-weather, search and rescue capability, heavy-lift capacity; long range patrol; capability, safe-landing on waters; and deck securing options for handling and storage on ships with foldable blades, ship-adapted systems which will surely enhance the units search and rescue capability.
With the present crop of trained personnel from 505th assigned in different parts of the country, the Filipino citizenry can rest assured that a helping hand is always there to help.
505th has also been conducting training on other PAF units and civilian volunteers in the basics of search and rescue and paramedic operations to tap additional men should there be a need to augment its existing manpower.
(Source as edited: PIO, HPAF.)