MANILA – A Philippine military transport crashed as it was attempting to land in the south of the country on Sunday, killing at least 42 military personnel and three civilians on the ground, the Defense Ministry announced.
The Philippine Air Force C-130 aircraft was ferrying soldiers when it crashed during the landing at around 11:30 a.m. local time, on the island of Jolo.
Another 49 servicemen were injured, along with four other civilians on the ground.
“We remain to be hopeful that we could find more survivors,” said Joint Task Force Sulu commander William Gonzales, as another five soldiers remain unaccounted for. “These individuals were supposed to report to their battalions today. They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism.”
Jolo, located in the southwestern island province of Sulu, is home to numerous military facilities. The armed forces have been locked in a decades-long effort to stamp out an insurgency in the predominantly Muslim region.
Initial reports listed 96 people on the plane, including three pilots, five crew members, flying in from Cagayan de Oro City, over 450 miles south of Manila.
“It’s very unfortunate,” military chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told reporters. “The plane missed the runway and it was trying to regain power but failed and crashed.”
President Rodrigo Duterte’s office said it was “deeply saddened” by the event and is “praying for the safe recovery of the passengers.”
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan offered condolences in a statement Sunday, saying, “We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Philippine allies at this difficult time and are ready to provide all appropriate support to the Philippines’ response effort.”
Photos from the official state news agency show the tail of the plane, with the number 5125, surrounded in flames and the crash site, and a black plume of smoke visible from a nearby residential area.
Eyewitnesses saw soldiers jump out of the plane before it hit the ground, “sparing them from the explosion,” according to a military dispatch from the region. Thirty-two injured have been evacuated to the larger port city of Zamboanga, on the mainland, for treatment.
Quoting an unidentified air force official, the Associated Press reported the runway in Jolo is shorter than others in the country, making it a difficult landing. The plane is also reportedly one of two former U.S. Air Force aircraft given to the Philippines as military assistance, according to AP.
Just last month, an air force helicopter crash killed six people – three pilots and three crew members. Four people died in yet another crash in September last year.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana appealed to the public to avoid prematurely attributing the crash to defective equipment. “With the investigations of the past mishaps still ongoing, such speculations are as of yet baseless and disrespectful to the affected men and women of the Philippine Air Force, and their families,” he said, adding he had ordered a full investigation.
The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines tweeted that it was assisting with medical support.