A Philippine air force C-130 aircraft carrying combat troops assigned to fight Muslim militants crashed and exploded while landing in the south Sunday, killing at least 42 army soldiers on board and three civilians on the ground. It was one of the worst disasters in the air force's history, the AP reports. At least 49 other soldiers were rescued with injuries and survived the fiery noontime crash into a coconut grove outside the Jolo airport in Sulu province, including some who managed to jump off the aircraft before it exploded and was gutted by fire, military officials said. Three of seven villagers who were hit on the ground died. The aircraft had 96 people on board, including three pilots and five crew members, while the rest were army personnel, the military said, adding that only five soldiers remained unaccounted for late Sunday. The pilots survived but were seriously injured, officials said. The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was one of two ex-US Air Force aircraft handed over to the Philippines as part of military assistance this year.
The aircraft originally took off from Manila with only a few passengers, including a two-star army general, who disembarked with his wife and three children in Cagayan de Oro city. The army troops then boarded the C-130 for the flight to Sulu. "A number of soldiers were seen jumping out of the aircraft before it hit the ground, sparing them from the explosion caused by the crash," a military statement said, citing witnesses. Initial pictures released by the military showed the tail section of the cargo plane relatively intact. The other parts of the plane were burned or scattered in pieces in a clearing surrounded by coconut trees. The plane was transporting troops, many of them new soldiers who had just undergone basic training, for deployment in Sulu, officials said. "They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism," the Sulu military commander said. Government forces have been battling Abu Sayyaf militants in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu for decades. It was not immediately clear what caused the crash. The military chief of staff said, "the plane missed the runway and it was trying to regain power but failed and crashed."
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