News Plane Crashes Update News — 11 July 2017

Update: Jet was at cruising altitude before problems, crash

The military transport plane that slammed into soybean fields Monday in the Mississippi Delta, killing 15 Marines and a Navy sailor, appears to have developed problems while high in the air, a Marine general said Wednesday.

“Indications are something went wrong at cruise altitude,” Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James told reporters Wednesday in Itta Bena, Mississippi. That squares with comments from witnesses interviewed by The Associated Press who said they saw the plane descend from high altitude with an engine smoking.

The crash of the KC-130 killed nine Marines from Newburgh, N.Y., and six Marines and a Navy Corpsman from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, James said.

James said that there is a “large debris pattern,” including two main impact areas separated by a mile, with a four-lane highway in between them.

Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher repeated earlier warnings that people in the crash area shouldn’t pick up any debris, which could include weapons, ammunition and evidence valuable to determining why the plane crashed.

“None of that stuff should be touched,” Fisher said. “Removal of anything from the area could be subject to criminal prosecution.”

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Video: Man stops on road near Marine plane crash, plays taps in honor of victims

Fisher, who also spoke at the news conference, said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as federal prosecutors in northern Mississippi, are investigating reports that someone removed debris. State law enforcement agencies are guarding the area, but the broad area and number of roads makes it difficult to control access.

Fisher urged people to call the ATF at 1-800-ATF-GUNS if they find anything.

Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks said the debris is spread across 2 to 3 miles (3 to 5 kilometers) of farmland. He estimated Wednesday it will take investigators five or six days to sift through the wreckage and clean up the site where the plane crashed on Monday.

Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and were headed for pre-deployment training in Yuma, Arizona, the Marine Corps said Tuesday.

Marine Maj. Andrew Aranda said Wednesday the names of those killed will not be released until 24 hours after family members are notified.

Several bouquets were left Tuesday at the main gate of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, where the plane was based. Stewart was closed to reporters and did not issue a statement.

“We’re feeling the pain that everybody else is,” Robert Brush said after dropping off three pots of red, white and blue petunias. He works for a landscaping company that serves the base.

It was the deadliest Marine Corps air disaster since 2005, when a transport helicopter went down during a sandstorm in Iraq, killing 30 Marines and a sailor.

The crash happened outside the small town of Itta Bena about 85 miles (135 kilometers) north of the state capital of Jackson.

The Marine Corps said the cause was under investigation and offered no information on whether the plane issued a distress call.

FBI agents joined military investigators, though Aranda told reporters no foul play was suspected.

“They are looking at the debris and will be collecting information off of that to figure out what happened,” Aranda said.

The KC-130 is used to refuel aircraft in flight and transport cargo and troops.

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 spiraling downward with one engine smoking.

“You looked up and you saw the plane twirling around,” he said. “It was spinning down.”

Jones said that by the time he and others reached the crash site, fires were burning too intensely to approach the wreckage. The force of the crash nearly flattened the plane, Jones said.

Catfish farmer Will Nobile said he drove to the site and as he and others stood by a highway, they saw an open parachute wafting down from the sky: “It didn’t look like anybody was in it.” Another catfish farmer found an empty, open parachute later near a fish pond, Nobile said.

The Marines said the plane was carrying personal weapons and small-arms ammunition — equipment that may have contributed to the explosion and the popping that could be heard as the wreckage burned.

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ATLANTA — At least 16 people were believed dead after a military plane crashed in the Mississippi Delta on Monday, prompting an urgent rescue effort in one of the South’s most rural regions, the authorities said.

Fred Randle, the emergency management director in Leflore County, Miss., said in a brief interview late Monday that officials thought at least 16 people had died in the crash. The fire chief in Greenwood, Marcus Banks, said only that there were “multiple fatalities” in the episode, which occurred around 4 p.m. in Leflore County, about two hours north of Jackson.

A Marine Corps spokeswoman at the Pentagon, Capt. Sarah Burns, said that one of the service’s KC-130 aircraft had “experienced a mishap.” The Marines, who use KC-130s for aerial refueling, did not immediately provide any additional information, including the plane’s scheduled route.

The cause of the crash, in an unincorporated part of Leflore County, was not immediately clear, but Chief Banks said witnesses described the plane as disintegrating in the air as it neared the ground. The chief estimated that the debris field was about three miles in diameter.

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The chief, who said the Fire Department used about 9,000 gallons of foam to extinguish a blaze, said he believed the cockpit and fuselage had fallen about a mile from one of the plane’s wings.

Edna Beavers was trimming the grass outside her house in Itta Bena, Miss., on Monday afternoon when, she said, she glanced up and saw a huge plume of black smoke rising from a soybean field about a mile away. “I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Ms. Beavers, 68, said in an interview Monday night.

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Ms. Beavers said the military plane crashed along County Road 547, a dirt road that connects acres of farmland between Itta Bena and Moorhead. There are few homes along the road, she said. A military jet later circled overhead, she said.

Military aircraft are a common sight in the skies of rural Mississippi, their jet engines reverberating over miles of farmland. But Ms. Beavers said she did not hear the plane fly overhead or hear it crash. As the sun set, smoke was still billowing from the fields, she said.

“That is a sad situation there,” she said.

Mayor Carolyn McAdams of Greenwood, the county seat, said military officials were traveling to the crash scene on Monday night. The Federal Aviation Administration and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency referred questions to the military.

The F.B.I. was also sending employees to the scene, but a spokesman for the bureau, Brett Carr, said the authorities did not believe foul play was to blame for the crash.

“We’re just trying to offer any type of assistance,” said Mr. Carr, a spokesman for the bureau’s office in Jackson, Miss. “It could be anything from manpower to evidence response.”

Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi expressed his condolences after the crash.

“Please join Deborah and me in praying for those hurting after this tragedy,” Mr. Bryant said in a statement, referring to his wife. “Our men and women in uniform risk themselves every day to secure our freedom.”

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