Of­fi­cials comb fields for clues after mil­i­tary plane crash

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

With de­bris scat­tered for miles across the flat coun­try­side of the Mis­sis­sippi Delta, fed­eral and lo­cal of­fi­cials combed soy­bean fields for clues in a mil­i­tary plane crash that killed 15 Marines and a Navy sailor. Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider bat­tal­ion at Camp Le­je­une, North Carolina, and were headed for pre­de­ploy­ment train­ing in Yuma, Ari­zona, the Marine Corps said Tues­day. Sev­eral bou­quets were left at the main gate of Ste­wart Air Na­tional Guard Base in New­burgh, New York, where the plane was based.

Of­fi­cials said some of those killed were from the base, but 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. Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials con­tin­ued to with­hold the names of the dead, say­ing they were no­ti­fy­ing fam­ily mem­bers. Wit­nesses said they heard low, rum­bling ex­plo­sions when the plane was still high in the sky Mon­day, saw the air­craft spi­ral­ing to­ward the flat, green land­scape and spot­ted an ap­par­ently empty para­chute float­ing to­ward the earth.

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 north of the state cap­i­tal of Jack­son. Bod­ies were found more than a mile from the plane. The Marine Corps said the cause was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and of­fered no in­for­ma­tion on whether the plane is­sued a dis­tress call. With the in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der­way, Mis­sis­sippi Gov. Phil Bryant warned peo­ple not to re­move de­bris from the area and said that any­one tak­ing some­thing could be pros­e­cuted.

Bryant, in state­ments Tues­day on Twit­ter, said law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties have re­ceived re­ports that items are be­ing taken from the crash site. De­bris from the KC-130 is scat­tered for miles. Sher­iff’s deputies and state troop­ers have been try­ing to con­trol ac­cess to sites, but the broad area and num­ber of roads makes that dif­fi­cult. Bryant asked peo­ple to stay away and turn de­bris over to au­thor­i­ties. FBI agents joined mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tors, though Marine Maj. An­drew Aranda told re­porters no foul play was sus­pected.

Gray streak

“They are look­ing at the de­bris and will be col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion off of that to fig­ure out what hap­pened,” Aranda said. The county coroner, mean­while, fer­ried more body bags into fields to re­move re­mains. The KC-130 is used to re­fuel air­craft in flight and trans­port cargo and troops. Will No­bile, a cat­fish farmer, was in­side his of­fice Mon­day af­ter­noon when he heard an un­usu­ally loud rum­ble in the sky. “It sounded like a big thun­der­storm,” No­bile said. “Not one big ex­plo­sion, but a cou­ple of sec­ond­long ex­plo­sions . ... A long, steady rum­ble is what it was.”

He walked out­side to see what was mak­ing the noise in the cloud­less af­ter­noon and saw a “gray streak” dis­ap­pear be­hind trees, and then black smoke ris­ing. Andy Jones said he was work­ing on his fam­ily’s cat­fish farm just be­fore 4 pm 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. “Beans are about waisthigh, 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 a high­way, more than a mile away. 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. Jones said fire­fight­ers tried to put out the blaze but were forced back by an ex­plo­sion. 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.—AP

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