At least 45 dead after Philippine Air Force plane crashes in Sulu

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The death toll from the plane crash in Sulu climbs to 45, as authorities continue search and rescue operations. Officials say five military personnel are still unaccounted for.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 4) — At least 45 people were killed after a Philippine Air Force C-130 plane carrying over 90 passengers crashed in a Sulu town on Sunday, the military reported.

The Joint Task Force Sulu said the death toll among army personnel as of 5:30 p.m. is at 42. The Department of National Defense also reported three fatalities among civilians on the ground, as authorities continue search and rescue operations.

According to the military, the incident happened at 11:30 a.m. in Barangay Bangkal in Patikul, Sulu.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said onboard the aircraft were three pilots, five crew members, and the rest were soldiers traveling to Jolo, Sulu from Cagayan de Oro.

Based on initial information, the plane overshot the runway as it tried to land at the Jolo airport and crashed in the nearby town of Patikul, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said.

Forty-nine wounded soldiers have so far been rescued and hospitalized, five others remain unaccounted for, while four civilians also sustained injuries.

"Per eyewitnesses, a number of soldiers were seen jumping out of the aircraft before it hit the ground sparing them from the explosion," JTF Sulu said. It added that troops and civilian volunteers rushed to the site for search and rescue minutes after the crash.

Some of those injured are being treated at the Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital in Jolo town, while others had to be brought to Zamboanga for further treatment.

The military said the passengers include new soldiers about to be deployed to Sulu as part of the government's anti-terrorism campaign.

"We remain to be hopeful that we could find more survivors," JTF Sulu Commander MGen. William Gonzales said.

In a statement, Malacañang said it is "deeply saddened" by the crash, adding "we are one in praying for the safe recovery of the passengers."

Lorenzana also called on the public to refrain "from spreading highly speculative statements" on the incident amid claims that equipment purchased by the military are defective.

Less than two weeks ago, a newly acquired S-70i Black Hawk Utility helicopter of the air force also crashed during a night flight training near Capas, Tarlac — killing three pilots and three crew members.

"With the investigations of the past mishaps still ongoing, such speculations are as of yet baseless and disrespectful to the affected men and women of the Philippine Air Force, AFP and their families," the Defense chief said.

In a tweet, Lorenzana also said he has already ordered a full investigation into the incident, which will begin "as soon as the rescue and recovery operation is completed."

CNN Philippines Correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.