A Philippines Air Force troop plane crashed and broke up in flames on a southern island on Sunday, killing at least 45 people after some jumped free, officials said, in the country’s worst military air disaster in nearly 30 years.
Pictures from the scene showed flames and smoke pouring from wreckage strewn among coconut palms as men in combat uniform milled around, while a column of thick black smoke rose into the sky.
The Lockheed C-130 transport aircraft, carrying troops bound for counter-insurgency operations, crashed with 96 people on board.
“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,” the Joint Task Force Sulu said in a statement.
Debris from the crashed Air Force C-130 cargo plane. Photograph: Joint Task Force Jolo-Armed Forces/EPA
It was not immediately clear how many jumped or whether they had survived.
Military chief Cirilito Sobejana said the plane had “missed the runway trying to regain power”.
The department of national defence said 45 people had been killed, including three civilians on the ground, while 53 were injured, including four civilians. Five military personnel were still missing.
A military spokesman, Colonel Edgard Arevalo, said there was no sign of any attack on the plane, but an investigation had yet to begin as efforts were focused on rescue and treatment.
Filipino soldiers working on the crash site. Photograph: Joint Task Force Jolo-Armed Forces/EPA
The military command said the soldiers aboard had the rank of private and were being deployed to their battalions. They were flying to the provincial airport of Jolo from Laguindingan, about 460km to the northeast.
The army in the sprawling Philippine archipelago has been fighting a long war against Islamist militants from Abu Sayyaf and other factions.
“They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism,” said Commander William N Gonzales of Joint Task Force Sulu.
Jolo airport has a 1,200-metre runway that usually takes civilian turboprop flights though occasionally some military flights, according to a Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines spokesperson.
Jolo island, part of the Sulu archipelago, is about 950km south of the capital, Manila. – Reuters