MANILA — Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque revealed on Tuesday that he rode a military aircraft days before it crashed in the Southern Philippines and killed at least 53 people in one of the country's worst military air disasters.
The C-130 Hercules transport plane was carrying 96 people, mostly fresh army graduates, when it overshot the runway while trying to land in Sulu province Sunday.
Roque said he rode the same aircraft when it delivered medical supplies and COVID-19 shots to Iloilo City last Thursday.
"‘Yong C-130 po na bumagsak, ‘yon din po ‘yong C-130 na sinakyan natin," he said in a taped late night meeting with Duterte.
(The C-130 that crashed, that was the same C-130 that we rode.)
"Fortunately po, mukhang ibang crew naman ‘yong nandoon pero namatayan din po, nakikiramay po, pero noong nakausap ko po ‘yong ilang crew na sinakyan namin, talagang they are also in shock dahil alam nila na it could have happened to them, too," he added.
(Fortunately, it appears that a different crew was there, but we condole with those who died. I talked with some of the crew on our flight, they are also in shock because they know it could have happened to them, too.)
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.
Most of the dead were soldiers being deployed to the island -- a haven for militants -- as part of a counter-insurgency effort.
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 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.
The cockpit voice and flight data recorders, which are known as black boxes, will be sent to the United States for analysis, Vinluan said.
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.
"We will be able to hear from that black box what was the last conversation of the pilots and crew in the cockpit so we can ascertain the situation that really happened," Sobejana told CNN Philippines.
The pilot in command, who had several years of experience flying a C-130 aircraft, was among those who died in the crash on Jolo island, Sobejana said.
He said the front of the aircraft was sliced open and some of the soldiers took advantage of the opening to escape. Others were unconscious when the plane burst into flames.
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.
Military spokesman Edgard Arevalo on Monday said the plane was in "very good condition" and had 11,000 flying hours remaining before its next maintenance was due.
It was one of 4 in the country's fleet. Two others are being repaired while the third has been grounded following the crash.
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 reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse; Reuters