Crashed plane in Sulu purchased from US in January

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) C-130 Hercules plane that figured in a fatal crash in Patikul, Sulu, on Sunday, July 4, had been one of two aircraft purchased from the United States earlier this year. 

The Department of National Defense (DND) earlier received the plane in a welcome ceremony on January 29 at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City. 

An official statement from DND on January 30, 2021, said the C-130 plane with tail number 5125 was the first of two planes “granted by the US government through Security Cooperation Assistance.” 

The PAF itself confirmed that the C-130 aircraft that crashed Sunday had the "tail number 5125."

The plane first flew in 1988 and had been used by the US until it was stored in 2016 and sold to the Philippines in January 2021, according to a website that tracks C-130s. 

Sunday's crash is the worst to hit a C-130 in the Philippine military's recent history. It's the 4th accident involving Philippine military aircraft this year.

4 crashes

Earlier this month, a newly acquired Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a night training flight, killing six people onboard. That crash happened about two months after another helicopter, an MG-520 attack chopper, crashed in the central Philippines, killing its pilot.

And in January, a refurbished UH-1H Vietnam War-era Huey helicopter also crashed in the south, killing seven soldiers.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Cirilito Sobejana told reporters that the plane was about to land at the Jolo Airport in Sulu's capital but "missed the runway trying to regain power.” It crashed in the nearby town of Patikul. 

An update from the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) Western Mindanao Command as of 6 pm Monday, July 5, said the crash killed at least 52 people.

Most of the passengers were trainees from the 4th Infantry Division in Cagayan de Oro City.

At least 18 of those rescued were brought to the hospital at the 11th Infantry Division in Busbus town in Sulu, while 32 were evacuated to Zamboanga.

The military's latest update also put the total number of military personnel on the plane at 96, higher than the 93 from initial reports.

The PAF said the C-130 took off from the Villamor airbase for Lumbia Aiport in Cagayan de Oro to pick up the soldiers who were to be deployed to Sulu. 

Defective equipment?

Lorenzana appealed to the public to "refrain from spreading highly speculative statements about the unfortunate incident."

In a statement Sunday afternoon, the defense chief said: "We are currently focusing our attention on the rescue of the survivors of the C-130 crash and all available resources of the AFP are being utilized for the ongoing search and retrieval operations."

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr defended the DND against allegations it used and purchased “defective equipment,” saying the agency had limited funds to upgrade its equipment. "Hey! It is not like Defense has a choice but to get what's on offer because the military budget is mostly eaten up by pensions; little is left for upgrading equipment,” Locsin tweeted.

A February statement from the US embassy in Manila said the C-130 plane was worth P1.54 billion. The Philippines acquired the aircraft thought the US’ Foreign Military Financing grant program. 

The C-130 Hercules was intended to beef up the AFP’s military and civil support operations as part of its modernization program. It had a maximum payload of 19,000 kilograms, with a flying range of over 1,900 kilometers.

During its turnover in February, US Chargé d’Affaires John Law expressed optimism the aircraft would be a “steady workhorse for the Philippine Air Force for years to come.” 

The DND, meanwhile, said the C-130 would provide the Philippine military with “enhanced capability in terms of heavy airlift missions to support movement of troops and cargoes during Territorial Defense Security and Stability and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response Operations.” 

The newly acquired aircraft had likewise been used to distribute COVID-19 supplies across the Philippines during the pandemic, the US embassy said.  – with reports from Reuters/Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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