Manila: Philippine troops have found the last five dead in the crash of a transport plane in the south, which has increased the death toll to 50 in the army’s worst air disaster, officials said Monday.
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was carrying 96 mostly combat troops when it overtook the runway as it landed at Jolo Airport in Sulu province on Sunday, military officials said. It crashed into a coconut forest on the other side of the airport and burst into flames in an afternoon disaster seen by horrific soldiers and villagers.
Troops, police and firefighters rescued 49 military personnel, including some who jumped from the plane before it exploded and were hit by a fire. Seven people on the ground were hit by aircraft parts and debris, and three of them died, the military said.
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was one of two refurbished U.S. Air Force aircraft handed over to the Philippines this year as part of military aid to the Philippines, Washington’s oldest ally in Asia.
The plane had earlier transported two-star general Romeo Brawner Jr., his wife and three children from Manila to the south of the city of Cagayan de Oro, where he would become the new military regional commander on Monday.
Those on board the C-130 in Cagayan de Oro for the flight to Sulu were army troops, many of them newly trained recruits, who had to be deployed in the fight against militant Abu Sayyaf in the south.
Brawner was stunned when he learned that the plane he had just flown had crashed. “We are very grateful that we were spared, but very sad that so many people lost their lives,” Brawner told the Associated Press.
A video taken by troops showed the plane ending up in clear weather and then disappearing beyond the airport. “It’s gone, it’s gone,” one soldier exclaimed. Dark gray smoke later fell from the crash into a wooded area as troops shouted, “It fell, it fell,” and cursed.
“They were supposed to be with us in our fight against terrorism,” said Sulu’s military commander Maj. William Gonzales said. Government forces have been battling Abu Sayyaf militants in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu for decades.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash and investigators were searching for the C-130’s black boxes with the cabin voice and flight data recorders.
Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said the plane was unlikely to fire hostile. Military chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told reporters on Sunday that “the plane missed the runway and tried to regain power, but failed and crashed.” An Air Force official told The AP that the Jolo runway is shorter than most others in the country, making it harder for pilots to adjust if a plane misses the landing site. The officer, who has flown military planes to and from Jolo several times, spoke on condition of anonymity due to a lack of authority to speak in public.
President Rodrigo Duterte expanded the military presence in Sulu in late 2018 to a full division by deploying hundreds of additional troops, air force aircraft and other combat equipment after promising to wipe out Abu Sayyaf. The small but cruel group was blacklisted by the US and the Philippines as a terrorist organization for ransom abductions, bombings and beheadings.
Before Sunday, the deadliest disaster of the Philippine Air Force was an accident in a rice field north of Manila in 1971 in which 40 military personnel were killed, military historian Jose Custodio said.
A recently delivered S-701 Blackhawk helicopter crashed near Clark Freeport, a former U.S. air base, more than a week ago, killing all six Air Force personnel on board.
The Philippine government has struggled for years to modernize its army, one of the least equipped Asia, as it has dealt with decades of Muslim and communist insurgency and territorial divisions with China and other countries in the South China Sea.
Source: Telangana Today