Duterte might visit plane crash survivors
MANILA — The country is mourning 50 people who perished in a plane crash in Sulu, Malacañang said on Monday, with President Rodrigo Duterte likely to visit the survivors of one of the country's worst military air disasters.
The Hercules C-130 transport plane on Sunday was carrying 96 people, most of them recent army graduates, when it overshot the runway while trying to land in sunny weather on Jolo island in Sulu province, a haven for militants.
"Nagpapaabot po ng pakikiramay si Presidente Rodrigo Roa Duterte sa pamilya ng mga nasawi ng bumagsak na C-130 sa Sulu," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque. "Nagluluksa hindi lamang ang Sandatahang Lankas ng Pilipinas, ngunit ang buong bansa sa malungkot na pangyayaring ito."
(President Duterte extends condolences to the families of those who died in the crashed C-130 in Sulu. The whole nation, not just the military, grieves for this sad incident.)
"Nananalangin po kami na yakapin ng Panginoon ang mga nagdadalamhating pamilya para maibsan kahit paano ang kanilang nararamdaman... Pinagdarasal din natin ang mabilis na paggaling ng mga survivors," he said in a press briefing.
(We are praying that the Lord embraces the grieving families so that their feelings could be somehow eased. We are also praying for the swift recover of the survivors.)
Duterte might visit a hospital treating the wounded, "if plans push through," said Roque.
Fifty people, including 47 military personnel and 3 civilians, died when the plane "skidded" and burst into flames in a village, said Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo.
Another 53 were injured, most of them soldiers. It is not clear if the pilots were among the survivors.
The 3 people killed on the ground had been working in a quarry, village leader Tanda Hailid told AFP.
Photos of the scene released by the Joint Task Force-Sulu showed the damaged tail and the smoking wreckage of the fuselage's back section laying 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 that militants on the island did not disrupt search efforts.
Most of the passengers had recently graduated from basic military training and were being deployed to the restive island as part of a counter-insurgency effort in the region.
The military has a heavy presence in the southern Philippines where militant groups, including the kidnap-for-ransom outfit Abu Sayyaf, operate.
"This is one of the worst tragic incidents that happened in our armed forces," said Arevalo.
C-130s have been the workhorses of air forces around the world for decades, used to transport troops, supplies and vehicles.
The second-hand Hercules that crashed Sunday was acquired from the United States and delivered to the Philippines earlier this year.
It is one of 4 in the country's fleet. Two are being repaired while the other one has been grounded following the crash.
"These are all seasoned and experienced pilots that's why we are also unable to immediately say how this came into being," said Arevalo.
"Even if these (military assets) are not brand new... these are airworthy or seaworthy or land-worthy."
The accident was the deadliest for the Philippine air force, said Jose Antonio Custodio, a military historian and analyst.
"This ranks as the worst crash of a Philippine military aircraft with 50 dead so far as compared to the 40 dead in a 1971 crash of a PAF C-47," Custodio told AFP.
It was the latest in a series of air force accidents this year.
Last month, a Black Hawk helicopter went down during a night-time training flight, killing all 6 on board. The accident prompted the grounding of the Philippines' entire Black Hawk fleet.
"Siguro po 'yong mga pangyayaring ito (perhaps these incidents) will provide impetus for further modernization, rather than halted po or preventive," Roque said.
— With reports from Agence France-Presse