Rescuers carry a body from the site where a Philippine military C-130 plane crashed in Patikul town, Sulu province, southern Philippines on Sunday. (AP)
The crash also killed three civilians on the ground, taking the death toll to 50
MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte flew to Zamboanga City on Monday to visit soldiers who were injured in a military plane crash that killed 50, as an investigation was launched into the incident.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it had retrieved the remains of 47 troops who died in Sunday’s crash, with the identification process underway, while 49 survivors had been moved to hospitals in Sulu and Zamboanga City for further treatment.
The crash also killed three civilians and injured four on the ground, taking the death toll to 50.
“All passengers, pilots and crew were retrieved. Meanwhile, the search for the black box of the crashed C-130 is still ongoing,” the AFP told reporters.
It said the crash site had been cordoned off and security measures were in place to ensure there were “no disruptions from any quarter, particularly from militants, while the investigation is being conducted.”
Sulu is considered a hotbed of the Daesh-inspired Abu Sayyaf Group.
AFP spokesperson Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo told a press briefing on Monday that the incident would not affect the military’s continuing pursuit against “enemies of the state” and that an investigation team had arrived in Sulu to conduct a thorough probe.
“It could have arrived last night but, due to the absence of running lights in Sulu, their trip was rescheduled until early this very morning,” Arevalo said.
The aircraft was carrying 96 troops, most of whom were new graduates ready to be deployed to the 11th Infantry Division in Jolo, Sulu, “to fight terrorism in the area.”
On Sunday, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told Arab News that the aircraft was transporting troops from Laguindingan Airport in Cagayan De Oro to Jolo when it crashed at Barangay Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu, just a few kilometers east of Jolo airport.
Officials said the C-130 plane overshot the runway at Jolo Airport as it attempted to land.
A senior air force official, who requested anonymity, told Arab News that the aircraft had “bounced, skidded and hit the end wall or the hillside.”
Arevalo said that, while the weather was good at the time of the incident, the area where the C-130 overshot the runway was a village which could be why civilians were also injured and killed.
The AFP was “determined” to probe the cause of Sunday’s crash, he added, saying that, based on the information available, the aircraft had followed the specified protocols regarding “approach speed (and) the landing spot.”
Arevalo also vowed to ensure a transparent probe. “Just like you, we are very much and keenly interested in determining what happened to ensure that incidents like this will not happen (again).”
He appealed to the public to avoid spreading unverified news on social media, as this could hinder rather than help the investigation process, and denied rumors that the aircraft was defective.
He stressed that pilots were “all rated, seasoned, and experienced” in flying the C-130, one of the sturdiest and strongest aircraft in the country’s inventory.
The incident was “one of the more tragic accidents” in the military’s history, but he insisted they did not want to make comparisons “as all of these are tragedies.”
Arevalo said authorities were also going to look for the black box or the flight data recorder, as well as eyewitness accounts and data the control tower in Sulu might have, and that the C-130 was in “tip-top shape” even if it was not brand new.
“As a matter of fact, when it was delivered to the AFP, it (had) more than 11,000 flying hours remaining, and when this accident happened, it still had around 11,000 flying hours remaining before the next maintenance of the aircraft.”
The president visited Camp Navarro General Hospital to award medals to the injured soldiers. He then went to the Naval Forces for Western Mindanao to posthumously confer medals on the troops who lost their lives in the crash.
Established in 2017, the Order of Lapu-Lapu Kampilan and Kalasag medals are awarded to government officials and personnel, as well as private individuals, “who were seriously wounded, suffered great loss of property and to those who lost their lives, in the pursuit of the president’s campaign or advocacy.”
International governments have been sending their condolences following the crash.
“On behalf of the United States, I offer our deep condolences to the people of the Philippines. Our thoughts are with those who were injured and the families of those who were lost,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said. “We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Philippines allies at this difficult time and are ready to provide all appropriate support to the Philippines’ response effort.”
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its embassy in the Philippines, and the embassies of South Korea, Russia, and France also sent their condolences, wishing the survivors a quick recovery.
UK Minister of State for Asia Nigel Adams tweeted: “I am very sad to hear of those who have been killed and injured in the military plane crash in Jolo Island, the Philippines. My thoughts are with the people of the Philippines and the loved ones of those affected.”