A Philippine air force C-130 aircraft carrying troops crashed in a southern province after missing the runway Sunday, killing at least 17 military personnel while at least 40 were rescued from the burning wreckage, officials said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said rescue and recovery efforts are ongoing. The aircraft had 92 people on board, including three pilots and five crew and the rest were army personnel, he said.
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was one of two ex-U.S. Air Force aircraft handed over to the Philippines as part of military assistance this year. It crashed on landing shortly before noon Sunday in Bangkal village in the mountainous town of Patikul in Sulu province, military chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said.
He said at least 40 people on board were brought to a hospital and troops were trying to save the rest.
The plane was transporting troops from southern Cagayan de Oro city for deployment in Sulu, Sobejana said. Government forces have been battling Abu Sayyaf militants in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu for decades.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash. Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said it was unlikely that the aircraft came under fire and cited witnesses as saying that it appeared to have overshot the runway.
"It’s very unfortunate,” Sobejana told reporters. “The plane missed the runway and it was trying to regain power but failed and crashed.”
Initial pictures showed that the weather was apparently fine in Sulu although other parts of the Philippines were experiencing rains due to an approaching tropical depression. The airport in Sulu’s main town of Jolo is located a few kilometers (miles) from a mountainous area where troops have battled the Abu Sayyaf. Some militants have aligned themselves with the Islamic State group.
An air force official told The Associated Press that the Jolo runway is shorter than most others in the country, making it more difficult for pilots to adjust if an aircraft misses the landing spot. The official, who has flown military aircraft to and from Jolo several times, spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak publicly.
The United States and the Philippines have separately blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings. It has been considerably weakened by years of government offensives but remains a threat.