COTABATO, Philippines: At least 45 people were killed on Sunday (Jul 4) when a Philippine military aircraft carrying troops crashed and burst into flames after missing the runway in the country's south, officials said.
Ninety-six people, most of them recent army graduates, were on board the Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft when the accident happened as it tried to land on Jolo island in Sulu province around midday.
The Department of National Defence said of the 45 dead, three civilians were killed on the ground, while 53 were injured, including four civilians. Five military personnel were still missing.
"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," the Joint Task Force Sulu said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear how many jumped or whether they had survived.
The troops were bound for counter-insurgency operations.
"This is a sad day but we have to remain hopeful," commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu Major-General William Gonzales said.
Photos taken by local media outlet Pondohan TV and posted on their Facebook page showed the wrecked body of the plane engulfed in flames. A plume of thick black smoke rose above houses located near the crash site.
Armed Forces Chief General Cirilito Sobejana said the aircraft had been carrying troops from Cagayan de Oro on the southern island of Mindanao when it "missed the runway" as it tried to land on Jolo.
The plane tried to "regain power but didn't make it", he told local media, describing the accident as "very unfortunate".
A military spokesman, Colonel Edgard Arevalo, said there was no sign of any attack on the plane, but an investigation had yet to begin as efforts were focused on rescue and treatment.
The four-engine plane crashed near a quarry in a lightly populated area, First Lieutenant Jerrica Angela Manongdo told AFP, adding the rescue operation had finished.
High school student Almar Hajiri Aki told AFP he was standing beside a road when he heard a "loud explosion" behind him.
"I thought our house was hit," said the 21-year-old, who rushed with his neighbours to help pull soldiers from the wreckage.
Most of the passengers had recently graduated from basic military training and were being deployed to the restive island as part of a joint task force fighting terrorism in the Muslim-majority region.
The military has a heavy presence in the southern Philippines where militant groups, including the kidnap-for-ransom outfit Abu Sayyaf, operate.
ONE OF THE DEADLIEST
The Lockheed C-130H Hercules aircraft, with registration 5125, had only recently arrived in the Philippines.
It was one of two aircraft provided by the US government through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a government website said in January. It quoted an air force spokesman as saying the aircraft would boost capability for heavy airlift missions.
The website C-130.net said the plane that crashed had first flown in 1988.
C-130 aircraft, the work horses of the air force, are used to transport troops and supplies. They are also often deployed to deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The mishap was one of the country's deadliest military aviation accidents.
Senator Richard Gordon said it was the fourth this year with "mass casualties".
"Are we buying defective crafts (with) the people's money?" he tweeted.
Sunday's accident came 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 S-70i went down near the Crow Valley training range north of Manila, prompting the grounding of the entire fleet.
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.