At least 31 dead in Philippines Air Force plane crash

Authorities said Sunday that at least 31 people were killed when a Philippines Air Force plane crashed on landing, including at least 29 army soldiers and two civilians who were on the ground. 

Videos and photos shared on social media showed large clouds of dark smoke erupting from the site where the Lockheed C-130 Hercules crashed and burst into flames, with pictures showing pieces of the wings and other debris from the plane sprawled in an area of the Bangkal village in the mountainous town of Patikul. 

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According to The Associated Press, Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the aircraft had 96 people on board, with at least 50 people rescued by emergency personnel. 

At least 17 soldiers aboard the plane, which officials said was bound for counter-insurgency operations, still remain unaccounted for. 

Reuters reported that the 50 people rescued were taken to area hospitals. 

A statement provided by the military said that some soldiers aboard the plane, which was flying to the Jolo airport in Sulu province, “were seen jumping out of the aircraft before it hit the ground, sparing them from the explosion caused by the crash,” according to the AP. 

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Officials said that many of the troops on the plane were newer soldiers who had just undergone basic training for deployment in Sulu, where the country's forces have been fighting Islamist militants from Abu Sayyaf for decades. 

Both the U.S. and the Philippines consider Abu Sayyaf a terrorist organization. 

The AP reported that witnesses said the plane had overshot the runway before crashing in the periphery of the airport, though officials have not yet named a specific cause for the disaster. 

Military chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told the AP, “The plane missed the runway and it was trying to regain power but failed and crashed.”

“It’s very unfortunate,” the military leader added. 

According to Reuters, the plane was one of two aircraft provided by the U.S. government through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. 

A series of deadly crashed have plagued the Philippines in the past decades, including its worst in 2000, when an Air Philippines Boeing 737 crash killed 131 people. 

Last month, a Philippines Black Hawk military helicopter crashed during training, causing six deaths.