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Hero dog honored for locating remains of plane crash victim in Isabela

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TRACKER | “Wheel,” the scent-tracking beagle, is cited for locating the remains of plane passenger Elna Escalante on Sunday some 200 meters from the wreckage in San Mariano, Isabela.
(Photo from the AK9 Mandog Society)

CAUAYAN CITY, Isabela, Philippines — An 8-year-old hero dog named “Wheel” was honored on Sunday for locating the remains of a plane crash victim in the forest of San Mariano town, Isabela province.

According to his trainers from the AK9 Mandog Sniffers Volunteers Organization, Wheel’s keen sense of smell played a crucial role in finding the body of Erna Escalante, a 43-year-old barangay health worker, who was one of the two occupants of the ill-fated Piper plane RP-C1234.

The remains of the aircraft’s pilot, Capt. Levy Abul II, were discovered in the wreckage two days earlier.

Wheel, a beagle, was among the three scent-tracker dogs deployed by authorities to search for Escalante after she was initially presumed to be alive when she was not found in the wreckage and after discovering a makeshift shelter in the area.

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The dogs and their handlers from the AK9 Mandog Sniffers Volunteers Organization, a private group based in the City of Sto. Tomas in Batangas province, were brought by the Philippine Air Force to Isabela and flown to the crash site to assist in locating the missing Escalante. The dogs were made to smell a piece of Escalante’s clothing, provided by her family, to track her scent.

But Escalante, who suffered from an undisclosed illness prior to the plane crash, was found lifeless some 200 meters down the mountain slope from the plane wreckage at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday, according to lawyer Constante Foronda, the head of the Isabela Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office and commander of the Incident Management Team (IMT) that supervised the search and rescue operations.

Escalante initially survived the crash but eventually died due to her injuries, poor health condition and lack of food, according to Red Oliva Lim, head of the AK9 Mandog Sniffer Volunteers.

“She (Escalante) had food with her, most likely the same food she brought with her [during the flight]. She was also holding some of her belongings [when she was found],” Lim said in a chat message on Monday.

The state of Escalante’s body when it was retrieved had yet to be disclosed by the IMT.

Search veteran

The hero dog Wheel and his trainers were recognized for the successful search operation as soon as they arrived at the headquarters of Tactical Operations Group 2 of the Philippine Air Force here.

Also recognized were the two other scent-tracker dogs, both Belgian Malinois, who helped in the search.

A formal ceremony to honor Wheel and the entire canine search team would be scheduled by the provincial government, the Inquirer learned.

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Wheel is known for his “great sense of smell” and “superior tracking instincts,” Lim said.

The AK9 Mandog Society has been training the Wheel in the last eight years since the hero dog was given up for adoption by his previous owner.

“[Wheel is] our longtime K9 dog and a veteran of numerous search operations,” Lim added.

Wheel also joined the search operation in February in the Divilacan, Isabela plane crash that killed the pilot and five passengers.

Beagles have been widely used in tracking due to their size and good temper.

.The light plane went missing on Nov. 30 minutes after departing from the Cauayan Domestic Airport while heading to Palanan Airport, some 70 kilometers away. After five days of searching, the plane’s wreckage was spotted in the forest of Barangay Casala in San Mariano on Dec. 5.


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TAGS: crash, dog, hero, Isabela
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