Hard task after Sulu C-130 crash: Identifying the dead
MANILA, Philippines — The military has recovered the bodies of all 49 soldiers and three civilians killed in Sunday’s crash of a C-130 Hercules cargo plane in Patikul, Sulu province, but now comes the hard task: matching names to some of the charred remains.
“The critical thing now … is the identification, not only of those who perished but also those of their next-of-kin so we would know to [whom] we are supposed to deliver or provide the benefits and give the assistance that are necessary,” Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said on Monday.
It would also ensure that “they will be brought home and be given the decent burial that they deserve as heroes of our country,” Arevalo said.
Fifty-two people died and 51—47 soldiers and four civilians—suffered injuries when the plane bound for Sulu’s capital town of Jolo “skidded” and burst into flames in a village in Patikul. It was one of the country’s worst military air disasters.
It was not clear if the pilots were among the survivors.
The three people killed on the ground had been working in a quarry, village leader Tanda Hailid told Agence France-Presse.
Flight data boxes
Security forces searched among coconut trees on Monday for the flight data boxes of the aircraft which was carrying 96 people, most of them Army soldiers who just completed their training in Cagayan de Oro City. The plane overshot the runway at the Jolo airport and went down.
The AFP’s chief of staff, Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, has given instructions “to continue and make sure, in the most efficient way and the fastest means possible, to do the identification [of the bodies] so that we can inform all those who are supposed to be notified,” Arevalo said.
“The process of identifying them [is] in place and it’s moving and we hope to notify all the next of kin of those who perished in this incident before we release even the names of those who survived,” he pointed out.
Once the bodies are identified, they would be delivered or brought home to their families, he said, but he acknowledged the challenge of matching the names of fatalities with the remains.
“Much as the remains are charred, we have means on how to identify them,” Arevalo said. But he added that they all “have dental records for us to compare them with their remains.”
“In instances where there might be some changes and some dental records were not updated, we have forensic experts in the Armed Forces and other agencies of government,” he added.
Photos of the scene released by the Joint Task Force Sulu showed the damaged tail numbered 5125 and the smoking wreckage of the fuselage’s back section laying in the coconut grove.
“We have people on the ground to [ensure] the integrity of the pieces of the evidence that we will retrieve, most particularly the flight data recorder,” Arevalo said. “Aside from eyewitness accounts, we are also looking for recordings, radio conversation recordings between the pilot and the control tower.”
At a press briefing, the AFP official said the investigation had started along with the search and retrieval operations for the aircraft’s black box, or flight data recorder.
“We are determined to find out what really transpired in this very tragic incident because according to available information, the aircraft followed the specified protocol regarding the approach speed, the landing spot and the area, that part of the runway where it landed,” he assured.
“It followed all those protocols per available information but what is yet to be determined is what caused the aircraft to exceed the runway, [go] out of the runway,” Arevalo said.
He noted that “the pilots [were] all rated, seasoned and experienced in flying these aircraft.”
Arevalo said a “select group of tested pilots” would help the Philippine Air Force (PAF) air mobility command conduct the probe.
The official doused speculations that the aircraft was defective, saying it was in “tip-top shape. It’s not brand new but it’s in very good condition.”
“When this accident happened, it still has around 11,000 flying hours remaining before the next maintenance,” Arevalo said.
Sobejana directed all military camps nationwide to lower their flags at half-staff for six days starting Monday in honor of the soldiers who died while in the line of duty.
The Senate will not rush to conduct an investigation into the crash in the supposed exercise of its oversight function on the procurement of air assets of the government’s AFP modernization program, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Monday.
Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on national defense, said he called on the Filipino nation to “pause to pray for the souls of those who perished … and for the full recovery of the injured passengers.”
Sen. Risa Hontiveros also extended her condolences to the families of the deceased, and called on the AFP to make sure that the victims’ benefits are given “without delay,” and for the victims to be given proper military honors.
The House of Representatives has vowed to allot money for the modernization of the PAF fleet amid the tragedy.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco also called for a review of PAF pilots’ protocols as other lawmakers pushed for an inquiry into the incident and other issues surrounding aviation safety.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, MELVIN GASCON AND AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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