Editorial: No more of the same

·3 min read

“THAT should be the last,” Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Cirilito Sobejana quoted President Rodirgo Duterte as saying following the crash of the C-130 that carried 96 passengers. Around 50 died, including three residents on ground, and injured 49 others. The aircraft came all the way from Villamor Air Base in Pasay, enroute to Lumbia airport, and flew to Jolo.

“We cannot afford to have a similar incident in the future,” the President reportedly said. The crashed aircraft was one of the two C-130 Hercules acquired this year through a grant from the US government. It arrived on Jan. 29, 2021 and joined the Philippine Air Force (PAF) fleet officially on Feb. 18. The Philippines shelled out P1.6 billion as counterpart of the US government’s P800 million. This utilitarian type aircraft—used for troops, medical evacuations and cargo transport—is a four-engine turboprop military vehicle designed originally by Lockheed, now Lockheed Martin.

This recent accident is the third involving C-130’s in the Philippines. On Dec. 16, 1993, a PAF C-130 Hercules crashed into Mount Manase while on descent towards Naga Airport. On Aug. 25, 2008, another C-130, an L-100-20, crashed into sea after it took off Davao City. Up to this day, the cause of the crash after it lost contact shortly after it took off had not been determined.

In this recent accident, the black box had been found and there should be proper investigation soon following the period of national grief.

Initially, this is what Sobejana said as far as available details of the accident went: “One of our C-130s, while transporting our troops from Cagayan De Oro, na-miss nya ‘yung runway, trying to regain power, at hindi nakayanan, bumagsak doon sa may Barangay Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu (One of our C-130s, while transporting troops from Cagayan De Oro, missed the runway, tried to regain power but failed, and ended up crashing in Barangay Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu).

The C-130, heavily used during the US war in Korea and Vietnam, is one of the most sucessful designs in aviation history, built to transport troops in medium distances and is capable of landing even in austere fields.

The C-130 aircraft we’ve been buying are old, refurbished ones, and would require heavy maintenance and even more intense training for their custodians considering the potential odds and ends of old parts. Although retrofitted, these aircraft had gone beyond their supposed retirement age. Although, the C-130 has a record accident rate of “one per 250,000 flying hours over the last 40 years,” the UK Royal Air Force’s data reported. The figure means that the C-130 is one of the safest aircraft it operates.

As these old aircraft are used by our military, it may be important to ask how the maintenance requirements are being addressed—budget, expertise, training, etc. Aircraft maintenance procedures are reputedly more rigid than any other modes of transport ever invented. “This should be the last,” true, we have seen the tragic losses we have to deal with in the Patikul crash—the billions in taxpayers’ money and, certainly, the lives of our soldiers.

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