ITTA BENA, Miss. (AP/WNCN) — A U.S. military plane used for refueling crashed into a field in rural Mississippi, killing at least 16 people aboard and spreading debris for miles and creating a fiery wreckage, officials said.
Leflore County Emergency Management Agency Director Frank Randle told reporters at a late Monday briefing that 16 bodies had been recovered after the KC-130 spiraled into the ground about 85 miles (135 kilometers) north of Jackson in the Mississippi Delta.
Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns said in a statement that a KC-130 “experienced a mishap” Monday evening but provided no details. The KC-130 is used as a refueling tanker.
A press release from U.S. Marine Corps confirmed that the flight originated from Cherry Point.
A Marine Corps KC-130 transport aircraft crashed in LeFlore County, Miss., on July 10 at approximately 4 p.m. CDT, claiming the lives of 16 service members. The flight originated from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. Federal Aviation Administration officials contacted the Marine Corps when the aircraft disappeared from air traffic control radar over Mississippi. The cause of the crash is unknown at this time; the incident is under investigation.
The identities of the service members whose lives were lost in this tragic accident are being withheld to allow time for their loved ones to be notified. While the details of the incident are being investigated, our focus remains on providing the necessary resources and support to the family and friends of these service members as they go through this extremely difficult time. More information will be released as it becomes available.”
It’s not clear at this time how many service members from Cherry Point were on the plane when it crashed.
Andy Jones said he was working on his family’s catfish farm just before 4 p.m. when he heard a boom and looked up to see the plane corkscrewing downward with one engine smoking.
“You looked up and you saw the plane twirling around,” he said. “It was spinning down.”
Jones said the plane hit the ground behind some trees in a soybean field, and by the time he and other reached the crash site, fires were burning too intensely to approach the wreckage. The force of the crash nearly flattened the plane, Jones said.
“Beans are about waist-high, and there wasn’t much sticking out above the beans,” he said.
Jones said a man borrowed his cellphone to report to authorities that there were bodies across U.S. Highway 82, more than a mile from the crash site.
Greenwood Fire Chief Marcus Banks told the Greenwood Commonwealth that debris from the plane was scattered in a radius of about 5 miles (8 kilometers).
Jones said firefighters tried to put out the fire at the main crash site but withdrew after an explosion forced them back. The fire produced towering plumes of black smoke visible for miles across the flat region and continued to burn after dusk, more than four hours after the crash.
Aerial pictures taken by WLBT-TV showed the skeleton of the plane burning strongly.
“It was one of the worst fires you can imagine,” Jones said. He said the fire was punctuated by the pops of small explosions.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) expressed his sympathy on social media.
A tragic reminder of the dangers our servicemembers face daily, including training missions needed to keep our nation safe at home & abroad.
— Senator Thom Tillis (@SenThomTillis) July 11, 2017