MANILA, Philippines — At least 45 people were killed and 53 others injured when a C-130 Hercules military plane crashed after missing the runway upon landing in Patikul, Sulu before noon yesterday.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana quoted initial reports that there were 96 people on board, raising fears that the death toll may rise with five passengers still unaccounted for.
Three civillians died while four others were injured at the crash site, the military said.
“We remain hopeful that we could find more survivors,” said Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS) commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales who was in charge of rescue efforts.
“Our search and rescue is still ongoing with 17 personnel unaccounted for. These individuals were supposed to report to their battalions today. They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism,” he added.
Most of the C-130’s passengers were personnel of the Philippine Army while three were pilots – Maj. Emmanuel Makalintal, Maj. Michael Benolirao and one Lt. Tato – and five crewmembers.
As of last night, there was no confirmation yet if the three pilots were among the injured.
Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said four civilians on the ground were also injured at the crash site and required medical attention.
Photos taken by local media outlet Pondohan TV and posted on its Facebook page showed a plume of thick black smoke rising from the wreckage, engulfed in flames and the tail still intact and marked 5125.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the aircraft had been carrying troops from Cagayan de Oro when it “missed the runway” as it tried to land at the Jolo Airport.
The plane tried to “regain power but didn’t make it,” he told local media.
Gonzales said: “As per eyewitnesses account, a number of the soldiers were seen jumping out of the aircraft before it hit the ground sparing them from the explosion as it crashed.”
Vinluan said that after overshooting the tip of the runway, the C-130 ditched into a shallow cliff, which is already part of Patikul town, Sulu, before bursting into flames.
“The C-130 broke into two and burned,” said Vinluan of the accident that happened around 11:30 a.m.
Initially, Sobejana said the injured were being treated at the nearby Camp Bautista Station Hospital under the 11th Infantry Division, but later, Gonzales confirmed that some of the 50 injured had to be evacuated to Zamboanga to undergo further treatment.
Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, mobilized the Regional Police Office of Bangsamoro to assist in the search and rescue efforts as well as assist any civilians affected by the crash.
“We are saddened by this unfortunate incident and we offer our deepest condolences to the families of our deceased soldiers,” Eleazar said.
Many of the passengers are newly conscripted privates for deployment to Sulu from the Philippine Army’s 11th Infantry Division as part of a joint task force fighting terrorism in the Muslim-majority region.
Malacañang said it was “deeply saddened” by the incident.
“Rescue efforts are ongoing, and we are one in praying for the safe recovery of the passengers,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said in a statement.
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, local government minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), said the Sulu Integrated Provincial Health Office was extending medical support.
The military has a heavy presence in BARMM where militant groups, including the kidnap-for-ransom outfit Abu Sayyaf, operate.
C-130 aircraft, the workhorses of the air force, are used to transport troops and supplies. They are also often deployed to deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The accident comes after a Black Hawk helicopter crashed last month during a night-time training flight, killing all six on board.
Three pilots and three airmen died when their S70-i went down near the Crow Valley training range north of Manila, prompting the grounding of the entire fleet.
DND: Don’t speculate
Lorenzana asked the public to refrain from making speculations and allegations that the military has been buying defective aircraft, resulting in crashes and the deaths of military personnel.
The defense chief was reacting to a Twitter post of Sen. Richard Gordon which questioned the quality of the air assets being acquired by the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
“This has been the 4th crash of PAF’s aircraft with mass casualties. In January, 7 were left dead after Bukidnon crash. In April, pilot was left dead in Bohol. In June, 6 dead in Tarlac. And today in Sulu, at least 17 are dead. Are we buying defective crafts with the people’s money?” Gordon asked.
PAF spokesman Lt. Colonel Maynard Mariano gave assurance that the cause of the crash would be investigated. But he stressed, “We are on rescue mode right now.”
The country ordered 16 of the multi-role aircraft from a Polish firm that made them under licence from the Sikorsky division of US defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
Eleven have been delivered since late 2020.
Int’l community sends sympathies
The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany expressed condolences over the deaths from the crash.
“We offer our sincerest condolences to the families of those who passed away in the crash in Sulu. The US Embassy is assisting in providing medical support and stands ready to provide further assistance,” Charge d’Affaires John Law of the US embassy in Manila said on Twitter.
“Shocked by the latest news of the crash of an AFP plane with dozens of casualties and critically injured. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” German Ambassador Anke Reiffenstuel said in a tweet.
British Ambassador Daniel Pruce said the crash was “tragic news” and that he was “desperately sad for everyone affected.”