Philippine security forces searched among coconut trees on a remote southern island Monday for the flight data boxes of an aircraft that crashed and killed 52 people in one of the country’s worst military air disasters.
The C-130 Hercules transport plane was carrying 96 people, most of them recent army graduates, when it overshot the runway on Sunday while trying to land on Jolo island in Sulu province — a haven for Islamist militants.
The plane “skidded” and burst into flames in a village, killing 52 people including 49 military personnel and three civilians, said military spokesman Major General Edgard Arevalo.
Another 51 were injured, most of them soldiers. It was not clear if the pilots were among the survivors. “This is one of the worst tragic incidents that happened in our armed forces,” Arevalo said.
The three civilians killed were not on the flight and had been working in a quarry, village leader Tanda Hailid told AFP.
They were relatives of Agga Ahaddi, who was lucky to survive the crash. He and his child were outside when the plane ploughed through their house and then a neighbour’s home. “We ran away, we just left,” Ahaddi told AFP.
Photos of the scene released by the military’s Joint Task Force-Sulu showed the damaged tail and smoking wreckage scattered in a coconut grove.
“We have people on the ground to make sure the integrity of the pieces of the evidence that we will retrieve, most particularly the flight data recorder,” Arevalo said.
“Aside from eyewitness accounts, we are also looking for recordings, radio conversation recordings between the pilot and the control tower.”
Arevalo said the military had secured the crash site and would ensure militants on the island do not disrupt search efforts. Dental records were being used to help identify the charred remains of victims.
Most of the passengers recently graduated from basic military training and were being deployed to the restive island as part of a counter-insurgency effort in the Muslim-majority region.—Agencies