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‘C-130 in tip-top shape’

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
âC-130 in tip-top shapeâ
President Duterte pays tribute to soldiers who died in the C-130 crash at the AFP Western Mindanao Command gymnasium in Zamboanga City yesterday. Joining him are Sen. Bong Go, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and AFP chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.
PTV4 image

Pilots seasoned, landing protocols followed – AFP

MANILA, Philippines — The Air Force transport plane that crashed in Sulu, killing dozens of soldiers and civilians, was in “tip-top shape” with seasoned and experienced pilots in the cockpit when tragedy struck, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said yesterday.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo made the assessment as authorities began an investigation into the crash Sunday of the C-130 plane that overshot a runway, killing 49 soldiers on board, three civilians on the ground and injuring dozens.

At a news conference, Arevalo said the plane was in “very good condition” and had 11,000 flying hours remaining before its next maintenance was due.

“We are determined to find out what really transpired in this very tragic incident, because according to available information the aircraft followed the specified protocols,” he said. “As I said, the aircraft was in tip-top shape. It’s not brand new but it’s in very good condition.”

“As of now the investigating team has already arrived in the area to conduct its own investigation,” he added.

Some passengers on the Lockheed C-130 jumped out of the aircraft seconds before the plane crashed and burst into flames, officials cited witnesses as saying.

The number of military casualties rose to 49 following the death of two more soldiers while being treated at the hospital.

The aircraft, carrying recently graduated troops bound for counter-insurgency operations, had been trying to land at Jolo airport in Sulu before noon.

All 96 passengers on board had been accounted for, with 47 military personnel injured as well as four civilians on the ground, Arevalo said.

With search and rescue completed, the military is now focusing on retrieving the black box and other pieces of evidence from the crash site.

A Tausug woman, Alicia Jamdan, said she saw the plane go down with only one set of side landing gears deployed. This, she thought, was odd and made her think the aircraft was having mechanical trouble. “From our village, we can see planes landing or taking off from the nearby Jolo airport. It’s my first time to see an aircraft maneuvering to land with incomplete landing gears,” Jandan told Catholic station dxOM yesterday.

“The AFP mourns deeply the incident that took the lives of 47 of our soldiers, most of them fresh graduates from military training and supposed to be deployed to the 11th ID based in Jolo, Sulu that runs after and combats the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group in this part of the region,” Arevalo said.

It was the worst Philippine military air disaster in nearly 30 years.

Among those killed in the crash were pilots Major Emmanuel Makalintal, Maj. Michael Vincent Benolerao and 1Lt. Karl Joseph Hintay; crewmen Air Force Sergeants Donald Badoy, Jan Neil Macapaz, Michael Bulalaque, Jack Navarro, Airman 1st Class Fortunato Regidor and military nurse 1Lt Sheena Alexandrae Tato.

The military has yet to release the names of the rest of the fatalities and injured.

The military command said the soldiers were flying to the provincial airport of Jolo from Laguindingan, about 460 km to the northeast, to be deployed to their battalions.

There was no sign the plane was brought down by insurgent fire, officials said. The military has been fighting a long war in the area against Islamist militants from Abu Sayyaf and other factions.

No speculation please – AFP

Arevalo said a select group of experienced pilots would be assisting in the probe as the AFP appeals to the public to avoid speculations or spreading unverified derogatory reports that would only muddle the issue.

“The public could be assured that the AFP will be transparent in the conduct of the investigation, starting with the black box or the flight data recorder and other pieces of evidence and other materials or objects that could help determine what exactly transpired,” he stressed.

As part of standard operating procedure, Arevalo said all the C-130 aircraft of the military would be grounded pending results of the investigation.

He said the military has four C-130 aircraft, including the one that crashed. Two are undergoing maintenance and repair in Portugal and only one other C-130 is currently being used.

“We assure our people that we are transparent and the results of the investigation (will be made) available when completed,” he said.

Jolo airport has a 1,200-meter runway that usually takes civilian turboprop flights and occasionally some military flights, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

The aircraft had only recently arrived in the Philippines and was one of two 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.

Last month a Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a training mission, killing six people.

A Philippine Air Force C-130 crash in 1993 killed 30 people. A 2008 crash of the civilian variant of the Lockheed plane flown by the Philippine 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.

Outpouring of grief

AFP chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana has ordered Philippine flags at all military camps flown at half-staff for the next six days or until after interment of the soldier-fatalities for camps where wakes would be held.

The soldiers would be given hero’s burials and accorded other honors befitting soldiers who died in the line of duty.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Washington stands ready to provide support for the Philippines’ response effort.

“On behalf of the United States, I offer our deep condolences to the people of the Philippines regarding the tragic plane crash in which several dozen service members were killed,” Sullivan said in a statement released by the White House.

“Our thoughts are with those who were injured and the families of those who were lost. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Philippine allies at this difficult time and are ready to provide all appropriate support to the Philippines’ response effort,” he said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III also expressed sympathy to families of crash victims.

“On behalf of everyone at the @DeptofDefense, we offer our sincere condolences to the government of the Philippines and the families of those lost in the crash in Sulu. We will continue to provide @dndphl support and assistance in response to this tragedy,” Austin said in a message on Twitter.

Charge d’Affaires John Law of the US embassy in Manila said the US is providing medical support and other assistance to survivors of the crash and to families of the fatalities.

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio also expressed sympathies and said she has sent a team of six doctors to Zamboanga City to help in the treatment of survivors of the crash. She said the volunteers were doctors from Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC).

At least 17 of the survivors were transferred to Zamboanga City Medical Center. One of the injured was taken to the ICU and two others to the orthopedic ward.

ZCMC spokesperson Dr. Shadrina Sarapuddin said the hospital – the only one in the region with a burn unit – would be converting its birthing clinic to a burn unit.

Bangsamoro Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo said they were saddened by the tragedy.

“The government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao share the grief of the families of the fatalities in the plane crash,” Sinarimbo, BARMM regional spokesperson, said.

North Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmylou Taliño Mendoza and South Cotabato Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. separately sent their condolences to the families of the crash victims.

‘Flying coffins’

Senators expressed their condolences and reminded the military not to procure “flying coffins” anymore.

“While they (troops) risk their lives in the performance of their duties, they deserve better equipment and hardware so our soldiers are safe whenever they are on flights,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said.

Sen. Imee Marcos said the tragedy was “truly heart-rending and leaves a huge void in our collective consciousness as a nation.”

“Our unsung heroes spent their everyday saving lives, rescuing the injured, helping entire communities survive with food packs and medical supplies. But we couldn’t save them when they needed help. Stop buying flying coffins! No more soldiers’ widows and orphans!” she said.

“Considering this is the second plane crash in two weeks, it is a disservice to our armed services if we leave them vulnerable in battle,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said, as she condoled with the loved ones of the victims.

“It is about time that we in the legislature take a second hard look at the reality that lives lost from these so-called ‘flying coffins’ or ‘widow makers’ are priceless compared to the foreign debt that we may incur as a result of military modernization,” Sen. Ronald dela Rosa said.

“At the right time, we expect a thorough investigation of the incident to see what can be done to avoid a repeat of the tragic crash and to put in place measures to make our military planes safe,” Sen. Grace Poe said.

Modernization vowed

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco led officials of the House of Representatives in expressing their condolences.

“There are simply no words that can be said to console those left behind by our brave military personnel, as well as the three civilians who died as a result of this disaster,” Velasco – a congressman from Marinduque – said.

He said Congress was supposed to include the purchase of more C-130 planes in the 2021 national budget, but there was not enough time to deliberate on the modernization of the PAF’s fleet when he took over as Speaker in October 2020.

“I can only give my word that we in the House will include in the 2022 budget the modernization of the PAF’s fleet as well as ensure the proper training of personnel in handling modern equipment,” he promised.

“What happened in Sulu yesterday is depressing. I sympathize with the families of the military personnel and civilians who died, and we’re hoping for the speedy recovery of those injured,” said human rights lawyer Chel Diokno in a Facebook port.

The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) called for an investigation, which it said should focus on the Foreign Military Financing grant program under which the C-130 planes were acquired.

“We condole with the families of the deceased and call for indemnification for the civilian victims of the deadly plane crash,” Bayan said.

“We pray for peace and comfort for those who perished and their loved ones at this difficult time and offer our condolences to the AFP and their families,” Labor coalition Nagkaisa said in a statement.

“The sacrifices of these workers in the defense establishment will always be remembered by a grateful nation,” the labor group said. – Cecille Suerte Felipe, Pia Lee-Brago, Delon Porcalla, Paolo Romero, Roel Pareño, John Unson, Mayen Jaymalin, Rhodina Villanueva, Edith Regalado

ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES PLANE
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