The death toll from the crash of a Philippine Air Force C-130 cargo aircraft in Mindanao climbed to 45 as of Sunday evening, with another 53 injured, according the official tally of the government.
The 45 dead was composed of 42 military personnel and three civilians, while 49 military personnel and four civilians were injured. Five military personnel onboard the C-130 were still unaccounted for.
It was earlier reported that two of six villagers who were hit on the ground have died.
Some soldiers were seen jumping off the aircraft before it crashed and exploded around noon in the periphery of the Jolo airport in Sulu province, military officials said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said rescue and recovery efforts were ongoing. The aircraft had 96 people on board, including three pilots and five crew and the rest were army personnel, the military said.
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. It crashed while landing shortly before noon Sunday in Bangkal village in the mountainous town of Patikul, military chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said.
Military officials said at least 50 people on board were brought to a hospital in Sulu or flown to nearby Zamboanga city and troops were trying to search for the rest. “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 military statement said.
Initial pictures released by the military showed the tail section of the cargo plane relatively intact. The other parts of the plane were burned or scattered in pieces in a clearing surrounded by coconut trees. Soldiers and other rescuers with stretchers were seen dashing to and from the smoke-shrouded crash site.
The plane was transporting troops, many of them new soldiers who had just undergone basic training, from the southern Cagayan de Oro city for deployment in Sulu, officials said.
“They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism,” Sulu military commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales said. Government forces have been battling Abu Sayyaf militants in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu for decades.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash. Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said it was unlikely that the aircraft took hostile fire, and cited witnesses as saying that it appeared to have overshot the runway then crashed in the periphery of the airport.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Sobejana told reporters. “The plane missed the runway and it was trying to regain power but failed and crashed.”