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‘We are in rescue mode’: Dozens dead after Philippines’ worst military air disaster in nearly 30 years

At least 29 people were killed and 50 injured Sunday when a Philippine military aircraft carrying troops crashed and burst into flames after missing the runway in the country’s south, officials said.

Another 17 on board the C-130 Hercules transport plane when it crashed while trying to land on Jolo island in Sulu province are still missing, Major General William Gonzales said in a statement.

“This is a sad day but we have to remain hopeful,” he said.

A C-130 aircraft of the Philippine Air Force crashed while landing at the Jolo airport.

A C-130 aircraft of the Philippine Air Force crashed while landing at the Jolo airport.

AAP/Joint Task Force Jolo- Armed Forces of the Philippines

Ninety-two people, most of them recent army graduates, were on board the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft when the accident happened as it tried to land on Jolo island in Sulu province around midday.

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”.

“Responders are at the site now, we are praying we can save more lives,” Sobejana told AFP.

Sobejana said the 40 rescued from the wreckage were being treated at the nearby 11th Infantry Division hospital.

Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Maynard Mariano said the cause of the crash would be investigated.

The remains of a Philippine military C-130 plane that crashed in Patikul town, Jolo province, southern Philippines.

The remains of a Philippine military C-130 plane that crashed in Patikul town, Jolo province, southern Philippines.

AAP/Joint Task Force Jolo-Armed Forces of the Philippines

“We are in rescue mode right now,” Mariano told AFP.

It was being treated as an accident rather than an attack, Armed Forces spokesman Major General Edgard Arevalo told DZBB radio.

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.

Initial reports said the aircraft overshot the landing strip and broke into two, Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan told AFP.

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

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 w the people’s money?” he tweeted.

Filipino soldiers working on the crash site of a Philippine Air Force C-130 cargo plane.

Filipino soldiers working on the crash site of a Philippine Air Force C-130 cargo plane.

AAP/Joint Task Force Jolo-Armed Forces of the Philippines

Sunday’s accident comes 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 S70-i 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.

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