45 killed and dozens rescued as Philippines military plane crash-lands

(AP) - A Philippine military plane has crashed while landing, killing at least 42 soldiers on board and three civilians on the ground, while at least 49 people were rescued from the burning wreckage, officials said.

Some soldiers were seen jumping from the Lockheed C-130 Hercules before it crashed and exploded on the periphery of Jolo airport in Sulu province, military officials said. Three of seven villagers who were hit on the ground have died. Defence 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, adding five soldiers remained unaccounted for by nightfall. The pilots survived but were seriously injured, officials added.

The Philippine government has struggled for years to modernize its military, one of Asia’s least equipped, as it dealt with decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies and territorial rifts with China and other claimant countries in the South China Sea.

The plane was one of two ex-US Air Force aircraft handed to the Philippines as part of military assistance this year. It crashed while landing shortly before noon on Sunday in Bangkal village in the mountainous town of Patikul, military chief of staff General Cirilito Sobejana said.

Military officials said at least 50 people on board were taken to hospital in Sulu or flown to nearby Zamboanga city, and troops were trying to search for the rest.

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 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 Major General 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 Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan said it was unlikely that the aircraft took hostile fire, and cited witnesses as saying it appeared to have overshot the runway then crashed.

An air force official told the Associated Press the Jolo runway is shorter than most in the country, making it more difficult for pilots to adjust if an aircraft misses the landing spot.

Initial pictures showed that the weather was apparently fine in Sulu although other parts of the Philippines were experiencing rain due to an approaching tropical depression.