A Philippine Air Force C-130 plane carrying combat troops crashed in a southern province on Sunday when it landed, killing at least 29 army soldiers on board and two civilians on the ground , while at least 50 were rescued from the burning wreckage, officials said.
Some soldiers were seen jumping from the plane before it crashed and exploded around noon on the outskirts of Jolo airport in Sulu province, military officials said. Two of the six villagers who were hit on the ground died.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said rescue and recovery efforts are underway. The plane had 96 people on board, including three pilots and five crew members and the rest were military personnel, the military said, adding that 17 soldiers were still missing after dark. The pilots survived but were seriously injured, officials said.
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The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was one of two former US Air Force planes handed over to the Philippines as part of military assistance this year. It crashed as it landed shortly before noon on Sunday in the village of Bangkal in the mountainous town of Patikul, Military Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said.
Military officials said at least 50 people on board were taken to a hospital in Sulu or airlifted to the nearby town of Zamboanga and troops were trying to search for the rest. “According to eyewitnesses, a number of soldiers were seen jumping from the plane before it hit the ground, sparing them from the explosion caused by the crash,” a statement said. ‘army.
The first images released by the military showed the tail of the cargo plane relatively intact. The other parts of the plane were burned or scattered to pieces in a clearing surrounded by coconut trees. Soldiers and other rescuers with stretchers were seen rushing to and from the crash site surrounded by smoke.
The plane was carrying troops, many of whom were new soldiers who had just undergone basic training, from the southern town of Cagayan de Oro for deployment to Sulu, officials said.
“They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism,” said Sulu’s military commander, Major General William Gonzales. Government forces have been fighting Abu Sayyaf militants in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu for decades.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear. Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said the plane was unlikely to have taken hostile fire, and cited witnesses as saying it appeared to have overshot the runway and then crashed at the outskirts of the airport.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Sobejana told reporters. “The plane missed the runway and was trying to regain power but failed and crashed.”
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An Air Force official told The Associated Press that Jolo’s runway is shorter than most in the country, making it harder for pilots to adjust if a plane misses the landing point. The official, who has flown military planes to and from Jolo several times, spoke on condition of anonymity due to a lack of authority to speak publicly.
The first images showed that the weather was apparently fine in Sulu, although other parts of the Philippines were experiencing rain due to the approach of a tropical depression. Jolo Airport, the main town of Sulu, is located a few kilometers (miles) from a mountainous area where troops fought the Abu Sayyaf militants. Some activists have aligned themselves with the Islamic State group.
The United States and the Philippines have separately blacklisted Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings. It has been considerably weakened by years of government offensives but remains a threat.
President Rodrigo Duterte expanded the military presence in Sulu to a full division in late 2018, deploying hundreds of additional troops, air force planes and other combat equipment after promising to eliminate Abu Sayyaf and foreign and local allied gunmen.
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Government forces at the time were chasing after Muslim armed groups a year after they quelled the five-month siege of the southern city of Marawi by hundreds of militants linked to the Islamic State group. More than 1,000 people, most of them militants and commanders of long elusive Abu Sayyaf, have been killed in months of intense air and ground assaults.
Sunday’s crash comes as the limited number of military jets were strained even further, as the Air Force helped transport medical supplies, vaccines and protective gear to remote island provinces in amid peak COVID-19 infections.
The Philippine government has struggled for years to modernize its military, one of the least equipped in Asia, as it faced decades-long Muslim and Communist insurgencies and territorial divisions with China and d other South China Sea claimant countries.
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