By Ali G. Macabalang
At least 29 people were killed today (Sunday) when a Philippines Air Force plane carrying troops crashed on landing and broke up in flames in what was deemed as the country’s worst military air disaster in nearly 30 years.
Photos supplied online showed flames and smoke spewing from the aircraft’s wreckage scattered among trees as responding soldiers and responders milled around, while a column of thick black smoke rose from the coconut palms into the sky.
The ill-fated Lockheed C-130 transport aircraft carrying troops bound for counter-insurgency operations crashed with 96 aboard around 11:30am at Barangay Bangkal in Patikul, Sulu, it was learned.
Government forces have been fighting a long war against Islamist militants from Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and other factions in Sulu and elsewhere in Mindanao.
Patikul is among towns in Sulu believed to have remnants of ASG guerillas. But the military said there was no sign of an attack on the plane.
Plane had “missed the runway trying to regain power” AFP Chief of Staff Cirilito Sobejana was quoted as saying in initial reports.
Twenty-nine bodies were retrieved and 50 people had been taken to hospital, leaving 17 unaccounted for, the military said in a statement, adding there was still hope for survivors.
“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 unit, the Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS), said in the statement.
The ill-fated aircraft was shuttling soldiers with mostly ranks of private deployed to augment the JTFS contingents in fighting ASG guerillas. It was dispatched to the provincial airport of Jolo, Sulu from Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental.
“They (soldiers aboard) were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism,” JTFS Commander William Gonzales said in initial reports.
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 U.S. 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 REUTERS news said in a report.
The website C-130.net said the plane that crashed had first flown in 1988. The model is a workhorse for armed forces around the world, the foreign news entity added.
The Philippines armed forces have had a patchy air safety record. Last month a Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a training mission, killing six people, the REUTERS report said.
A Philippines Air Force C-130 crash in 1993 killed 30 people. A 2008 crash of the civilian variant of the Lockheed plane flown by the Philippines Air Force killed 11 people, the Aviation Safety Network says, the same report said.
The country’s worst plane crash was that of an Air Philippines Boeing 737 in 2000, which killed 131 people.
Meanwhile, the Bangsamoro autonomous government expressed sympathy for the fallen soldiers and their kin.
In the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, the autonomous government through its social welfare ministry and Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence (READi) unit has usually dispatched relief goods and services to Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, using C-130 planes lent by the Western Mindanao Command.
A Bangsamoro government team led by Local Government Minister and READi administrator Naguib Sinarimbo was able to carry out relief services and meet Sulu officials last month with the use of a C-130 plane. (AGM)