ITTA BENA, Mississippi - A military transport plane that departed from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina crashed Monday in Mississippi's Delta region, killing at least 16 people.
A Cherry Point spokesperson told ABC11 the plane was based at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans and stopped in North Carolina to refuel. It's believed everyone on board were reservists from Louisiana.
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 north of Jackson in the Mississippi Delta.
According to Marine Corps officials, the Federal Aviation Administration contacted the Marine Corps when the aircraft disappeared from air traffic control radar over Mississippi.
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.
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.
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.
The plane could be seen burning and producing large clouds of black smoke from Highway 82.
"It was one of the worst fires you can imagine," Jones said. He said the fire was punctuated by the pops of small explosions.
The cause of the crash is unknown at this time and remains under investigation.
Tuesday morning, Senator Thom Tillis, who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, issued a statement about the the crash that tragically killed at least 16 on board:
"Susan and I send our deepest condolences to the families of the Marines who lost their lives in service to our nation. Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and the Havelock community are in our thoughts and prayers. This is a tragic reminder of the dangers our service members are confronted with on a daily basis, including the training missions that are needed to help keep our nation safe at home and abroad."
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.
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