A Philippines Air Force troop plane crashed and broke up in flames on a southern island on Sunday, killing 45 people after some jumped from the fuselage, security 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 trees as men in combat uniform milled around, while a column of thick black smoke rose from the coconut palms into the sky.
The Lockheed C-130 transport aircraft carrying troops bound for counter-insurgency operations crashed with 96 aboard.
The plane had attempted to land at Jolo airport, but overshot the runway without touching down. It failed to regain enough power and height and crashed at nearby Patikul.
“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.
Military chief Cirilito Sobejana said the plane had “missed the runway trying to regain power.”
The army in the sprawling Philippine archipelago has been fighting a long war against extremist militants from Abu Sayyaf and other factions.
Twenty-nine bodies were retrieved and 50 people had been taken to hospital, leaving 17 unaccounted for, the military said in the statement, adding there was still hope for survivors.
Two civilians on the ground were also killed, and four were injured, a spokesperson for the Department of National defense said.
A military spokesman, Colonel Edgard Arevalo, said there was no sign of any attack on the plane, but a crash investigation had yet to begin and efforts were focused on rescue and treatment.
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 460 kilometer (290 miles) to the northeast.
“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-meter 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 950 kilometer (600 miles) south of the capital, Manila.
The Lockheed C-130H Hercules aircraft, with registration 5125, had only recently arrived in the Philippines.
It was one of two aircraft provided by the US government through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a government website said in January. It quoted an air force spokesman as saying the aircraft would boost capability for heavy airlift missions.
The website C-130.net said the plane that crashed had first flown in 1988. The model is a workhorse for armed forces around the world.
The Philippines armed forces have a patchy air safety record. Last month a Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a training mission, killing six people.
A Philippines Air Force C-130 crash in 1993 killed 30 people. A 2008 crash of the civilian variant of the Lockheed plane flown by the Philippines Air Force killed 11 people, the Aviation Safety Network says.
The country’s worst plane crash was that of an Air Philippines Boeing 737 in 2000, which killed 131 people.