ITTA BENA, Miss. (AP/WNCN/WNCT) — A Marine spokesman says a Navy corpsman and 15 Marines were killed when a military plane crashed in rural Mississippi as it was headed from North Carolina to California.
Marine Corps Maj. Andrew Aranda says Tuesday that the flight of the KC-130T originated Monday from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.
The plane was taking people and equipment to Naval Air Field El Centro, California, when it crashed Monday afternoon in a soybean field near Itta Bena, Mississippi.
Aranda says many of the Marines were from a unit based in New York with active duty and reserve members.
The Marine Corps says personal weapons and small-arms ammunition were aboard.
WNCT spoke with U.S. Marine Forces Reserve Public Affairs and confirms the plane made a stop at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, though it is not a Cherry Point Aircraft.
USMC Captain John Roberts say the aircraft took off from Cherry Point after receiving fuel there. There were no Marines on board the aircraft from Cherry Point.
A Marine Corps spokesperson says it was a 4th Marine Aircraft Wing asset which is headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana. Investigators are not releasing at this time if this unit was based at the headquarters.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, said in a statement Tuesday morning that he and his wife were extending their deepest condolences to the families of the Marines killed, as well as to the Cherry Point station.
In a Tuesday morning tweet, President Donald Trump offered condolences.
“Marine Plane crash in Mississippi is heartbreaking. Melania and I send our deepest condolences to all!” Trump wrote.
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 trees in the 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.
No more smoke was rising Tuesday morning from the site. State patrol units blocked all farm roads on U.S. Highway 82 about 2 miles (3 kilometers) away from the wreckage to keep anyone who wasn’t law enforcement or a response unit out of the area.
Officials did not release information on what caused the crash.
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point is about 115 miles (185 kilometers) southeast of Raleigh and about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the Atlantic Ocean.
The station was authorized by Congress just before the start of World War II. It supports the 2nd Marine Aviation Wing, providing, among other services, KC-130 aircraft used for in-flight refueling. The station covers 45 square miles (115 square kilometers) and has nearly 14,000 Marines, sailors and civilian employees.