MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday expressed gratitude to residents of Sulu province, who were among the first to help soldiers in a deadly crash of their military aircraft over the weekend.
The Lockheed C-130 transport aircraft was carrying 96 people, mostly fresh army graduates bound for counter-insurgency operations in the south, when it overshot the runway and exploded into flames on Sunday.
Some residents of Patikul town dashed to and from the crash site to carry as many wounded soldiers as they could, as shown in a contributed video shared to ABS-CBN News.
"To the civilians of Sulu, mainly the Tausugs, who assisted government in rescuing the passengers of the crash, maraming salamat. Shukran, shukran," Duterte said in a taped briefing with officials.
(Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you.)
Duterte again extended his condolences to the families of the crash victims, who he said were "given immediate medical attendance and further treatment."
"The Filipino people recognizes and will always remember our soldiers' deep devotion to duty. To their families, please accept the love and prayers of a grateful nation," he said.
Witnesses and survivors told investigators the plane landed "hard" and then bounced twice before taking off again, said Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.
"Then at the right side of the airport it hit a tree -- that's the account of the injured," Vinluan told AFP.
The death toll among those on board rose to 50 after a soldier suffering "chemical burns" to his face and smoke inhalation died overnight, said Armed Forces chief of staff General Cirilito Sobejana.
Three civilians who were not on the flight were also killed as the plane plowed through coconut trees and houses.
Another 50 people, mostly troops, were injured. Many suffered severe burns when the four-engine aircraft exploded into flames.
Security forces have recovered the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, which are known as black boxes. The CVR records flight crew conversations and the flight data recorder holds information about the speed, altitude and direction of the plane.
They could explain what caused the C-130, which the military said was in "very good condition", to crash in sunny weather.
These will be sent to the United States for analysis, Vinluan said.
Dental records are being used to help in the painstaking effort to identify badly charred bodies.
"So far we have identified 6 or 7 of them," said Sobejana.
"We are doing our best... we need to bring them to their family at the soonest possible time."
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 was one of 4 in the country's fleet. Two others are being repaired while the third has been grounded following the crash.
Sunday's crash was one of the country's worst military air disasters and the latest in a series of 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 country's entire Black Hawk fleet.
– With a report from Agence France-Presse