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Philippine military’s worst air disaster kills 50, wounds 49

Although the cause of the crash wasn’t clear, regional military commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said it was unlikely that the aircraft took hostile fire

SNS | MANILA |

Philippine military’s worst air disaster death toll touched 50 after five were found dead from the crash site of a transport aircraft on Monday, officials said.

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was carrying 96 mostly combat troops when it overshot the runway while landing on Sunday at the Jolo airport in Sulu province, military officials said.

It slammed into a coconut grove beyond the airport and burst into flames in a noontime disaster witnessed by horrified soldiers and villagers.

Troops, police and firefighters rescued 49 military personnel, including a few who jumped off the aircraft before it exploded and was gutted by fire. Seven people on the ground were hit by aircraft parts and debris, and three of them died, the military said.

The aircraft earlier had carried two-star Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., his wife and three children from Manila to southern Cagayan de Oro city, where he’s set to become the new military regional commander on Monday.

Those who boarded the C-130 in Cagayan de Oro for the flight to Sulu were army troops, many of them newly trained recruits, to be deployed in the battle against Abu Sayyaf militants in the south.

Brawner was stunned to learn the plane he’d just flown on had crashed.

A video taken by troops showed the aircraft landing in clear weather then vanishing beyond the airport. “It vanished, it vanished,” one soldier exclaims.

Dark gray smoke later billowed from the crash site in a wooded area as the troops, yell, “It fell, it fell” and let off curses in horror.

“They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism,” Sulu military commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales said. Government forces have been battling Abu Sayyaf militants in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu for decades.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash and investigators were looking for the C-130’s black boxes containing the cockpit voice and flight data recorders.

Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said it was unlikely that the aircraft took hostile fire.

Military chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told reporters Sunday that “the plane missed the runway and it was trying to regain power but failed and crashed.”

An air force official said that the Jolo runway is shorter than most others in the country, making it more difficult for pilots to adjust if an aircraft misses the landing spot. The official, who has flown military aircraft to and from Jolo several times, spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak publicly.

President Rodrigo Duterte expanded the military presence in Sulu to 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.

Before Sunday, the Philippine air force’s deadliest disaster was a crash in a rice field north of Manila in 1971 that killed 40 military personnel, military historian Jose Custodio said.

The Philippine government has struggled for years to modernize 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.