Tausug villagers were in the middle of their midday prayers when a C-130 Hercules military plane crashed in Patikul, Sulu province on Sunday, July 4.
Witness Almar Hajiraini Aki, a 12th grader at the Sulu National High School, said many people in the predominantly Muslim village of Bangkal were saying their Islamic prayers when they heard the loud noise and were startled by the impact of the crash.
The 20-year-old Aki told Rappler he was outside their house, and rushed to check on his grandmother who was inside their home before he ran toward the crash site some 20 meters away.
He said thick dark gray smoke filled the air as he rushed to the site where he saw fire and the wreckage.
“Nandoon ako sa daan noong hindi pa nag-crash ang plane. Nakatalikod ako sa pangyayari pagkatapos, may narinig akong malakas na impact na malapit sa bahay namin. Bigla kong naalala ang lola ko sa bahay, tumakbo ako kasi akala ko doon na nahulog ang plane,” he recalled.
(I was there on the road when the plane hadn’t crashed yet. My back was turned, then I heard a strong impact near our house. I suddenly remembered my grandmother was in the house, and I ran back to our home because I thought the plane crashed there.)
“Sinabihan ako ng kaibigan ko na tingnan ang pangyayari pero pagdating namin doon medyo hindi malapitan kasi pumuputok ang mga bala na dala ng plane,” he said.
(I was told by my friend to check what happened, but when we got there, we couldn’t get close because the ammunition on the plane was being set off.)
He said he and his friends saw some soldiers sprawled on the ground and found some of them alive.
Aki said he and his friends helped three soldiers who were lying helpless and struggling for life next to each other.
Aki was later told by a soldier the three were military officers.
Aki said soldiers subsequently came and asked villagers who were there for help before rescuers from the local government arrived.
Colonel Michael Bawayan, Sulu police director, said the provincial police and Jolo police offices secured the areas around the crash site while rescue and retrieval operations were ongoing.
Patikul is known as a town where the Abu Sayyaf group operates.
Bawayan said the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in Jolo worked to extinguish the fire.
As of 6 pm Monday, July 5, the Western Mindanao Command said the fatalities included 49 military personnel and three civilians.
Brigadier General Benjamin Batara, commander of the Army’s 11th Division in Sulu, confirmed that many of those hurt were airlifted to Zamboanga City.
At least 47 other military personnel and four civilians were injured and currently receiving treatment. Among those injured, 18 were confined to the 11th Infantry Division hospital while 32 were evacuated to Zamboanga.
The ill-fated C-130 Hercules plane, with Tail No. 5125, crashed in Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu, about a 20-minute drive east of the Jolo Airport.
Onboard were a number of soldiers, 50 of whom were new soldiers fresh from their six-month training from Camp Bahian in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. They were trained by the Cagayan de Oro-based 4th Infantry Division. – Rappler.com