Tausug heroes who rescued soldiers in plane crash now full-fledged first responders

Published November 10, 2021, 11:09 AM

by Krizette Laureta-Chu

• On July 4, 2021, the Armed Forces of the Philippines experienced its worst tragedy when the newly acquired Lockheed C-130 Hercules crashed in Bangkal, leaving 52 people dead, most of them soldiers who were on their way to their first mission

• They had crashed in what was considered enemy territory, with Patikul the town where what remains of the Abu Sayyaf still operate

• The Tausugs who helped the soldiers weren’t just being selfless—as guns popped, they put themselves in the line of fire just to help soldiers

• The Philippine Air Force thanked the Tausug villagers by training them, and making them full-fledged rescuers and first responders

• Last Nov. 5, class ‘Tausug Heroes’ graduated from the training course

It was high noon, on a quiet Sunday. The only sound you could hear were the mid-day prayers said in this small but infamous village of Bangkal in Patikul in Sulu, known as a hotbed of terrorist groups. Suddenly, a thunderous roar from overhead broke the stillness, and within a few seconds, dark, thick smoke filled the air.

The Tausugs interrupted their meditations and ran outside, first checking that their own homes were safe, to see what caused the explosion.

Some 20 meters away was the crash site—a large plane was burning, and soldiers were spilling out of it, doubling over, some fighting for their lives. Some were already on the ground, bloody and seriously wounded.

The day was July 4, 2021, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines had just experienced its worst tragedy when the newly acquired Lockheed C-130 Hercules, delivered to the Philippines only in February of this year, crashed in Bangkal. 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.

The soldiers still fighting for their lives knew they were in a bind. They had crashed in what was considered enemy territory, with Patikul the town where what remains of the Abu Sayyaf still operate. But they also badly needed help.

They’ve heard stories and they were stuck. Most of the soldiers in the aircraft had just completed their training and were headed to Jolo, Sulu, for deployment.

The soldiers, many of them on their first mission, said they have heard stories about ambush or killing of military men in Sulu. So when some of them saw Tausug villagers rushing to their aid as the plane burned behind them, and as bullets ricocheted (the ammunition were popping off as the plane was engulfed in flames), they were surprised but wary.

The Tausugs who helped the soldiers weren’t just being selfless—as guns popped, they put themselves in the line of fire just to help soldiers.

As they recuperated in hospitals, the soldiers—many who said they never thought they would survive—wished to get a chance to talk to their rescuers and thank them personally.

Last Nov. 5, the TOG SULTAW, TOW WestMin in partnership with JTF Sulu, PDRRMO Sulu, and 505th Search and Rescue Group, facilitated the closing ceremony of Search and Rescue Auxiliary Training (SARAT) CL 01-2021 with class name, “Tausug Heroes.”

The Philippine Air Force thanked the Tausug villagers by training them, and making them full-fledged rescuers and first responders.

The activity, held at Sumadja Hall, Capitol Complex, Brgy Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu saw 50 students from different municipalities in Sulu, PDRRMO, Joint Task Force Sulu and TOG SULTAW complete the 16-days rigid training.

The class “Tausug Heroes” was declared graduates by Col. Dennis Estrella, PAF (GSC), wing commander, of the TOW WestMin, and are now qualified to perform Search and Rescue (SAR) duties. They are now already full-pledged and well-trained first responders/rescuers.

The graduates each received a certificate of completion, SAR badge, and SAR personal protective equipment (PPE) composed of sweat shirt, utility rope, gloves, snap link and whistle, and the deserving students received special awards (Best in Swimming, Best in Rappelling, Best in Ropemanship, and Best in Academics).

Presiding officer Col Estrella (GSC) said that the Search and Rescue Auxiliary Training (SARAT) is one way for the Philippine Air Force to show appreciation to the Tausug Heroes for their sacrifices and gallantry act displayed during the recent ill-fated C-130 plane crashed.

He also emphasized the significance of having knowledge in search and rescue operations in any eventuality to pre-empt more casualties. Additionally, he expressed gratitude and appreciation to the Sulu Provincial Government for their support and assistance during the entire training.

Hon. Abdusakur Mahail Tan, provincial governor of Sulu, conveyed his appreciation to TOG SULTAW and Philippine Air Force as a whole and JTF Sulu for conducting the SARAT Training. Additionally, he requested to have another class of training in the Province of Sulu to have more rescuers in every municipality which is important in times of calamity, tragedy, or disaster.

The governor also expressed his appreciation for the efforts and participation of different municipalities, especially the Tausug Heroes in the conduct of the said training.

Also present during the activity were LTC Gerald Monfort (GSC) INF PA, and LTC Michael D Maquilan GSC (INF) PA of Joint Task Force Sulu, Julkipli T Ahijon Jr (PDRRMO Sulu), Eleanor Kharla J Hayudini (MDRRMO-Patikul), Alkisar U Alih (MDRRMO-Talipao), Engr. Alkhalid A Jaafar (MDRRMO-Jolo), Hji Doding A Asa (MDRRMO-Panglima Tahil), Jahara J Jumlani (Indanan), and Hon. Tanda S Hailid (barangay chairman of Bangkal).

 
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