Sulu plane crash: 92 passengers and crew on board; at least 30 confirmed dead

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 04 July) —  The ill-fated C-130 aircraft that crashed in Patikul, Sulu on Sunday morning had 92 persons on board: three pilots, five crew members and 84 personnel. Of this number, at least 30 have been confirmed to have died, their bodies retrieved from the crash site in Sitio Dan Putih in Barangay Bangkal in Patikul, Sulu.

In a telephone interview,  General Cirilito Sobejana, Armed Forces Chief of Staff,  said all three pilots and five crew members are alive but critically injured. Seventeen bodies had been initially retrieved but as of 6 p.m. the death told had risen to at least 30.

Brig. Gen. Benjamin Batara told MindaNews in a text message that he could not confirm the number of casualties “kasi yung ibang critical ay dinala sa Westmincom” (those in critical condition were brought to Westmincom) hospital in Zamboanga City.

The tail of the ill-fated Philippine Air Force C-130 aircraft at the crash site in Barangay Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu on Sunday, 04 July 2021. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Sulu Govenor Sakur Tan told MindaNews in a telephone interview on Sunday afternoon that he was awaiting reports on the exact number of casualties among civilians in the vicinity of the crash site.

Residents near the crash site told MindaNews at least five civilians died and five others were injured.

Tan said provincial and municipal agencies in Jolo and Patikul have been mobilized to attend to the needs of the injured.

The passenger manifest listed three pilots, five crew members and 84 personnel.

Sobejana said the aircraft was transporting troops from Cagayan De Oro to Jolo when it crashed at Barangay Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu just few kilometers east of Jolo airport. The aircraft left Villamor Air Base in Pasay City for Cagayan de Oro City early Sunday morning with Maj. Gen. Romeo Brawner among those on board. Brawner is scheduled to assumed his new post as commander of the 4th Infantry Division on Monday.

From Cagayan de Oro, the aircraft was bound for Jolo, carrying 50 of the 149 new soldiers who had just graduated from a basic infantry course in the Division Training Unit in Camp Bahian, Malaybalay City. The new soldiers were to be deployed to the 11th Infantry Division’s Joint Task Forcce Sulu.

“We are currently attending to the survivors who were immediately brought to the 11th Infantry Division station hospital in Busbus, Jolo. Sulu,” Sobejana said, adding that he will be “disclosing additional information in due time as the situation develops and after we have finished securing the crash site and rescued all of the aircraft’s passengers.”

On February 19 this year, John Law,  Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Manila, and representatives from the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines’ Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG),  turned over the first of two C-130H Hercules aircraft to be delivered under a recent transfer to Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana and Philippine Air Force (PAF) leadership.

This tactical airlift capability was turned over as a grant worth Php1.54 billion ($32.2 million) to the PAF through the Foreign Military Financing grant program.  It was meant to strengthen the Philippine military’s logistical capacity for military and civil support operations, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and distribution of COVID-19 supplies.

According to the website of the United States Air Force, the C-130 Hercules “primarily performs the tactical portion of the airlift mission. The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for airdropping troops and equipment into hostile areas.”

Law said the C-130 is a “proven aircraft and demonstrated its reach and capability to deliver COVID-19 supplies across the country over the past year” and they hope “this additional aircraft will continue to be a steady workhorse for the Philippine Air Force for years to come.”   (Frencie L. Carreon with a report from Carolyn O, Arguillas / MindaNews)