MANILA, July 4, (Agencies): A Philippine air force C-130 aircraft carrying combat troops assigned to fight Muslim militants crashed and exploded while landing in the south Sunday, killing at least 42 army soldiers on board and three civilians on the ground in one of the worst disasters in the air force’s history. At least 49 other soldiers were rescued with injuries and survived the fiery noontime crash into a coconut grove outside the Jolo airport in Sulu province, including some who managed to jump off the aircraft before it exploded and was gutted by fire, military officials said. Three of seven villagers who were hit on the ground died. His Highness the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al- Sabah sent a cable of condolences on Sunday to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte expressing sincere grief toward victims of a military plane that crashed in Jolo, Sulu province.
In the cable, His Highness the Amir wished mercy for the deceased and speedy recovery for the injured. His Highness the Deputy Amir and Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al- Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables to the Philippines President. The aircraft had 96 people on board, including three pilots and five crew while the rest were army personnel, the military said, adding only five soldiers remained unaccounted for late Sunday. The pilots survived but were seriously injured, officials said. The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was one of two ex-U.S. Air Force aircraft handed over to the Philippines as part of military assistance this year.
The aircraft originally took off from Manila with only a few passengers, including a two-star army general, Romeo Brawner Jr., who disembarked with his wife and three children in Cagayan de Oro city, where he’s set to become the new military regional commander on Monday. The army troops then boarded the C-130 in Cagayan de Oro for the flight to Sulu. Brawner said he was stunned to learn that the plane he’d just flown on had crashed. “We’re very thankful that we were spared, but extremely sad that so many lost their lives,” Brawner told The Associated Press. Officials said the injured personnel were brought to a hospital in Sulu or flown to nearby Zamboanga city, and troops were continuing to search for the missing. “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,” a military statement said, citing witnesses.