By Alan Blinder and Richard Perez-Pena
Sixteen service members died Monday when a Marine Corps transport plane plunged into a soybean field in the Mississippi Delta, scattering fiery debris far across farmland and a rural highway, the military said early Tuesday.
The plane was a KC-130 belonging to a Reserve unit, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, in the Hudson Valley north of New York City, the Marine Forces Reserve said Tuesday.
“The flight originated from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., as the squadron was supporting a requirement to transport personnel and equipment from there to Naval Air Field El Centro, California,” the Reserve said in a statement. “The crew and passengers consisted of 15 Marines and one Navy Corpsman.”
The military did not immediately identify the dead. In a statement, the Marine Corps said, “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.”
Military and local officials said the cause of the crash was unclear.
The KC-130, a variant of the C-130 transport plane, is configured as a tanker for aerial refueling of other aircraft, but it can also be used to transport troops and equipment. The craft has a standard crew of four, indicating that most of the people aboard were being ferried.
The plane, the military said, crashed around 4 p.m. Monday in Leflore County, Mississippi, about two hours north of Jackson, the state capital. By late Monday, with a debris field spread over several miles of Mississippi Delta farmland, local authorities announced that they were recovering bodies.
Officials said they were proceeding cautiously because of the flames and the fear of exploding ordinance.
“Equipment on board included various small arms ammunition and personal weapons,” the Marine Reserve statement said. “An Explosive Ordnance Disposal team is at the scene as a precaution in the interest of safety.”
President Donald Trump, in a tweet on Tuesday, called the crash “heartbreaking.”
“Melania and I send our deepest condolences to all!” the president wrote.