MANILA — A Philippine military transport crashed as it was attempting to land in the south of the country on Sunday, killing at least 47 military personnel and three civilians on the ground, military officials announced Monday.
Jolo, located in the southwestern island province of Sulu, is home to numerous military facilities. The armed forces have been locked in a decades-long effort to stamp out an insurgency in the predominantly Muslim region.
The plane was flying in from Cagayan de Oro City, over 450 miles south of Manila. There were 96 military personnel on board, including three pilots and five crew members. Most passengers were fresh graduates, newly assigned to combat terrorism in the region, officials said.
As of Monday, all remains were recovered and identification through dental records was taking place.
“It’s very unfortunate,” military chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told reporters on Sunday. “The plane missed the runway and it was trying to regain power but failed and crashed.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s office said it was “deeply saddened” by the event and is “praying for the safe recovery of the passengers.”
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan offered condolences in a statement Sunday, saying, “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.”
Photos from the official state news agency show the tail of the plane, with the number 5125, surrounded in flames at the crash site, and a black plume of smoke visible from a nearby residential area.
Eyewitnesses saw troops jump out of the plane before it hit the ground, “sparing them from the explosion,” according to a military dispatch from the region.
Quoting an unidentified air force official, the Associated Press reported that the runway in Jolo is shorter than others in the country, making it a difficult landing. The plane is also reportedly one of two former U.S. Air Force aircraft given to the Philippines as military assistance, according to the AP.
The military said the plane was in good condition, with 11,000 flying hours left before maintenance.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana appealed to the public to avoid prematurely attributing the crash to defective equipment. “With the investigations of the past mishaps still ongoing, such speculations are as of yet baseless and disrespectful to the affected men and women of the Philippine Air Force, and their families,” he said, adding he had ordered a full investigation.
John Law, the chargé d’affaires for the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, tweeted that the embassy was assisting with medical support.