Rescuers search for survivors at the crash site. AP/PA Images

Death toll in Philippines military air crash rises to 29 as rescuers search for survivors

The defence secretary said the air force C-130 plane had 92 people on board.

LAST UPDATE | Jul 4th 2021, 12:35 PM

A PHILIPPINE AIR force C-130 aircraft carrying troops crashed in a southern province while trying to land today, killing at least 29 military personnel.

At least 50 others were rescued from the burning wreckage.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said rescue and recovery efforts were continuing.

Military officials said there were 92 people on board the plane, including three pilots and five crew. The rest were army personnel.

The pilots survived but were seriously injured and at least four villagers on the ground were also injured, the officials said.

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was one of two ex-US Air Force aircraft handed over to the Philippines as part of military assistance this year.

It crashed while landing shortly before noon in Bangkal village in the mountainous town of Patikul in Sulu province, military chief of staff General Cirilito Sobejana said.

Officials said at least 50 people on board were taken to hospital and troops were trying to search for the rest.

A military statement said: “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.”

Initial pictures released by the military showed the tail section of the cargo plane.

The other parts of the plane were burned or scattered in pieces in a clearing surrounded by coconut trees.

Soldiers and other rescuers with stretchers were seen dashing to and from the smoke-shrouded crash site.

The plane was transporting troops, many of them new soldiers who had just undergone basic training, from southern Cagayan de Oro city for deployment in Sulu, officials said.

Government forces have been battling Abu Sayyaf militants in the predominantly Muslim province for decades.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash.

Regional military commander Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan said it is unlikely that the aircraft came under hostile fire and cited witnesses as saying that it appeared to have overshot the runway at Jolo and then crashed in the periphery of the airport, injuring at least four villagers on the ground.

“It’s very unfortunate,” General Sobejana told reporters. “The plane missed the runway and it was trying to regain power but failed and crashed.”

An air force official, who has flown military aircraft to and from Jolo several times, told the Associated Press that the runway is shorter than most others in the country, making it more difficult for pilots to adjust if an aircraft misses the landing spot.

Initial pictures showed that the weather was apparently fine in Sulu, although other parts of the Philippines were experiencing rain due to an approaching tropical depression.

The airport in Sulu’s main town of Jolo is located a few miles from a mountainous area where troops have battled Abu Sayyaf militants. Some militants have aligned themselves with the Islamic State (IS) group.

The US and the Philippines have separately blacklisted Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organisation for bombings, ransom kidnappings 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 into a full division in late 2018, deploying hundreds of additional troops, air force aircraft and other combat equipment after vowing to wipe out Abu Sayyaf and allied foreign and local gunmen.

Government forces at the time were running after Muslim armed groups a year after quelling the five-month siege of southern Marawi city by hundreds of militants linked to IS.

More than 1,000 people, mostly militants and long-elusive Abu Sayyaf commanders, were killed in months of intense air and ground assaults.

Sunday’s crash came as the limited number of military aircraft has been further strained, with the air force helping to transport medical supplies, vaccines and protective equipment to far-flung island provinces amid spikes in Covid-19 infections.

The Philippines government has struggled for years to modernise its military, one of Asia’s least equipped, as it dealt with decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies and territorial rifts with China and other claimant countries in the South China Sea.

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