A Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane broke in half and burst into flames when it overshot the runway in the southern island of Jolo on Sunday, killing at least 42 of the nearly 100 on board and three civilians on the ground, a military spokesman said.
The C-130 carrying 96 including three pilots and a five-man crew was landing at the Jolo Airport around 11:15 a.m., officials said. It is the latest in a series of deadly crashes involving military and police aircraft including a Black Hawk helicopter crash last month.
“As of 5:30 p.m. today, about 50 personnel were hospitalized with some evacuated to Zamboanga to undergo further treatment. Meanwhile, 29 bodies were already recovered from the incident site,” Joint Task Force Sulu commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales said in a statement.
Those figures were updated later in the day.
“We remain to be hopeful that we could find more survivors. Our search and rescue is ongoing with 17 personnel unaccounted,” he said. “These individuals were supposed to report to their battalions today. They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism.
“We enjoin the nation to pray for those who are injured and those who have perished in this tragedy,” Gonzalez said
Armed Forces chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the plane missed the runway and crashed near the area of Bangkal village in the town of Patikul, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf militant group.
“We are doing our best effort to rescue the passengers, our ground commanders are already there,” he said.
Military officials said the C-130 broke in half and burst into flames.
“Per eyewitnesses, a number of soldiers were seen jumping out of the aircraft before it hit the ground, sparing them from the explosion caused by the crash,” Gonzales said.
An Air Force official who has flown to and from Jolo several times told The Associated Press that the Jolo runway is shorter than most others in the country, making it more difficult for pilots to adjust when landing. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
‘Full investigation’ ordered
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana ordered “a full investigation to get to the bottom of the incident” and cautioned the public against speculating on the cause of the crash.
Meanwhile, John Law, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, said his country is providing medical support to assist rescue efforts.
“We offer our sincerest condolences to the families of those who passed away in the crash in Sulu,” he said on Twitter. “The U.S. Embassy is assisting (the defense department) in providing medical support and stands ready to provide future assistance.”
The troops being flown to Jolo were to augment the military’s operations against the Abu Sayyaf, a small Islamist group considered a terrorist organization by the government.
A faction led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the Philippine leader of the Islamic State, has been carrying out deadly attacks since January 2019 when it deployed an Indonesian couple to carry out a suicide bomb attack on a cathedral in Jolo, killing 21 and themselves. The following year, a similar attack near the cathedral left 14 dead.
Plane purchased in January
The Philippine military has been trying to modernize its aging fleet. The crashed plane was one of two aircraft purchased from the United States government in January under its military modernization program. Its mission was cargo transportation and to support troop movements across the archipelago, the Air Force said at the time.
In June, six soldiers were killed when a newly acquired Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a night-training flight, two months after a MG-520 attack helicopter went down in the central Philippines, killing its pilot. In January, a refurbished UH-1H Vietnam-era Huey helicopter also crashed in the south, killing seven soldiers.
In September 2020, an Air Force helicopter used as an air ambulance crashed en route to the southern island of Jolo, killing four crew members. Two months earlier, four soldiers were killed when their Huey chopper crashed after takeoff in the northern province of Isabela.
In March 2020, the country’s police chief and three police generals were among eight people injured when their Bell 429 helicopter crashed near Manila.
Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales in Cotabato City, Philippines, Richel V. Umel and Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, and Dempsey Reyes in Manila contributed to this report.