A Philippine Air Force plane crashed and burst into flames on a southern Philippines island on Sunday, killing at least 45 people, authorities said, as rescue and recovery operations continue.
The crash is considered the worst military air disaster in the country in nearly three decades, news agency Reuters reported.
The Lockheed C-130 transport plane was transporting troops from Cagayan de Oro, in Mindanao, bound for counterinsurgency operations in Sulu province when it missed the runway on the island of Jolo, the Armed Forces Chief Cirilito Sobejana explained.
The plane, carrying 96 military personnel and crew, reportedly crashed into nearby Patikul village at 11:30 a.m. local time on Sunday.
“Minutes after the crash, troops and civilian volunteers rushed to the site for search and rescue. Per eyewitnesses, 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 press release by Joint Task Force Sulu read.
Footage broadcast on a local TV station showed flames and thick smoke billowing from the wreckage strewn among the coconut palms.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said 42 soldiers and three civilians were among the dead and reported 53 people injured, including 49 soldiers and four civilians. All the victims and injured were found on the ground at the crash site.
Around 50 people were hospitalized after the accident.
Another group of people was evacuated from the city of Zamboanga for further treatment, the Joint Task Force Sulu statement stated. However, five soldiers who were on board the plane are still missing.
Military and civilian firefighters have deployed to put out the fire as rescue operations focusing on rescuing survivors from the crash site continue.
Joint Task Force Sulu Commander William N. Gonzales said the C-130 military aircraft was carrying personnel who “were supposed to report to their battalions today. They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism.”
The aircraft had recently arrived in the Philippines under the US government’s military funding program, a US government website announcement said in February.