Crash survivors: Tausug villagers ‘pulled us out of burning plane’
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines — Some soldiers who survived the C-130 plane crash in Patikul, Sulu province, exactly a week ago said they never expected Tausug villagers in the area to come to their aid.
Private First Class Troy Fernandez, 22, a BS Public Administration graduate from Agusan del Sur province before he decided to enlist in the military, said that he had heard stories—some of them about soldiers being ambushed or killed in Sulu—which made him wary of the place and its residents.
The province, after all, is where some of the remaining members of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, may still be roaming around undetected, and whom it was their mission to fight, he said.
This was why Fernandez was surprised when he saw Tausug villagers rushing to their rescue after the crash.
“We [have] heard narratives about the people of Sulu,” he said, adding, “But that day, we saw a [totally] different narrative. They are very kind people. They came to help us.”
His best friend, 21-year-old Private Cyrus John de Castro, said he never expected to survive the accident.
“It’s a miracle that we’re alive,” said De Castro, who had just finished senior high school in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur, before he joined the military training in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.
Most of the soldiers in the aircraft had just completed their training and were headed to Jolo, Sulu, for deployment.
“It was my first time to board a C-130, so when the plane crashed over coconut trees, I told myself that [this was the end]. But soon, I saw a number of civilians running toward us, shouting and helping to drag us out of the burning plane,” said De Castro, whose arms sustained burns in the crash.
All throughout their training, there were many stories about ambushes and assassinations carried out by forces hostile to government troops stationed in Sulu, some of the survivors said. So right after the crash, their instinct was to hide from people in the area for fear they would be harmed if they were to ask for help.
“When the plane landed flat over the coconut trees, I never expected to survive the crash,” recounted Cpl. Baginda Nasser, 49, of the 4th Infantry Division.
“I just closed my eyes and heard the crack as the middle of the plane broke [apart]. I felt my body on the ground and someone dragged me away from the plane. When I tried to open my eyes [because I felt my face burning], I saw civilians saving me,” Nasser said.
Another survivor, Private First Class Ganney Ligayan of the 55th Infantry Battalion, said the villagers “dragged me out of the burning plane and brought me to a safe place and started rescuing others.”
The 28-year-old Ligayan, whose viral photos on social media showed him being carried to safety by two residents, had suffered serious burns on his head, face, arms, back, and legs.
He said that among the things he wanted to do first once he got better would be to meet the villagers who saved him.
“I got my second life because of them,” he said. “I want to meet my rescuers to thank them for saving us.”
“They are kind,” Fernandez said. “They helped and saved us. If I was to be given a chance to report back to Sulu, I would still feel deeply indebted [to the Tausug people and I would] help them too,” he added.
The C-130 Hercules plane crash on July 4 is considered the worst military air disaster in the country in recent history. It left 52 people dead — 49 of them among the 96 passengers on board and three local residents. There were 51 injured, 47 of them military personnel.
As of July 9, the Armed Forces of the Philippines had identified only 20 of the 49 military personnel killed in the crash as most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition. Nine of the fatalities were from the Philippine Air Force (PAF), two were from the technical services, and nine from the Philippine Army.
Twenty-nine more bodies have yet to be identified, although the fatalities’ names have been released. All but one were from the Army.
The three people killed on the ground were working in a quarry, village leader Tanda Hailid told Agence France-Presse.
On Saturday, the PAF said that the black box, or flight data recorder, of the plane had been sent to the United States for analysis with the procedure expected to last for about a month. The cargo plane was just delivered from the US Air Force to the PAF in February.