(C) Reuters. First responders work at the site after a Philippines Air Force Lockheed C-130 plane carrying troops crashed on landing in Patikul, Sulu province, Philippines July 4, 2021. Armed Forces of the Philippines – Joint Task Force Sulu/Handout via REUTERS
By Karen Lema and Enrico Dela Cruz
MANILA (Reuters) -Philippine authorities ordered an investigation on Monday into the crash of an Air Force plane that overshot a runway and killed more than 50 people, including civilians, in the country’s worst military air accident in nearly three decades.
President Rodrigo Duterte flew to a military camp in the southern city of Zamboanga, where the dead and dozens of injured were brought following the crash on Sunday of a transport plane the defence ministry said was in good condition.
“I commiserate with you. I am as sorrowful as you. And as commander-in-chief, I am hurting the most because of lives lost,” Duterte said at a navy base after saluting the flag-draped coffins.
The C-130 aircraft was carrying recently graduated troops bound for counter-insurgency operations in the south and had been trying to land on Jolo island before it crashed and burst into flames.
With all 96 passengers accounted for, the death toll from the crash rose to 52, including three civilians, after two of 49 injured soldiers succumbed to their injuries on Monday, the defence ministry said.
Military spokesman Edgard Arevalo said the plane was in “very good condition” and had 11,000 flying hours remaining before its next maintenance was due.
“We are determined to find out what really transpired in this very tragic incident, because according to available information the aircraft followed the specified protocols,” he told a news conference.
Agga Ahaddi, a relative of the three civilians killed, was working at a nearby quarry when he saw the plane slam into his family’s home then hit another where relatives were staying, before bursting info flames.
“When the plane first crashed, it ran through our house,” he said.
The military command said soldiers were flying to the Jolo from Laguindingan, about 460 km (290 miles) away, to be deployed to their battalions.
The army has been fighting a long war in the area against militants from the Islamic State-inspired Abu Sayyaf and other factions.
There was no sign the plane was brought down by insurgent fire, officials said.
Arevalo assured the public the investigation would be transparent and said authorities were still searching for the flight recorders.
Jolo airport has a 1,200-metre runway that usually takes civilian turboprop flights and some military flights, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.
The Lockheed aircraft had only recently arrived in the Philippines and was one of two provided by the U.S. government through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a government website said in January.
It quoted an Air Force spokesman as saying the aircraft would boost capability for heavy airlift missions.
The website C-130.net said the plane that crashed had first flown in 1988. The model is a workhorse for armed forces around the world.
The Philippine military has a patchy air safety record. Last month a Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a training mission, killing six people.
A Philippines Air Force C-130 crash in 1993 killed 30 people, while a 2008 accident of the civilian variant of the Lockheed plane killed 11, the Aviation Safety Network says.
The country’s worst plane crash was that of an Air Philippines Boeing (NYSE:BA) 737 in 2000, which killed 131 people.
Philippines orders probe after worst military accident in 3 decades