Crews seek cause of mil­i­tary plane crash

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

Mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tors picked through the charred wreck­age of a Marine Corps cargo plane Tues­day, hunt­ing for clues for why the plane spi­raled out of the sky in west­ern Mis­sis­sippi, killing 15 Marines and a Navy sailor, a Marine state­ment said.

The probe into Mon­day’s crash of the KC-130 air­craft that was fly­ing from Marine Corps Air Sta­tion Cherry Point, N.C., is on­go­ing, the Marine state­ment said. The air­craft, used for re­fu­el­ing and car­ry­ing cargo and troops, was car­ry­ing mem­bers of an elite spe­cial op­er­a­tions unit cross-coun­try for train­ing in Ari­zona.

Equip­ment on­board the air­craft in­cluded small arms and am­mu­ni­tion, an­other Marine state­ment said. Bomb dis­posal ex­perts were sent to the crash scene as a pre­cau­tion.

FBI agents joined the mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tors, Marine Maj. Andrew Aranda told re­porters, adding that no foul play was sus­pected in the crash.

“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, pro­vided body bags to re­move the dead.

The names of those killed were not im­me­di­ately made pub­lic pend­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tion of fam­ily mem­bers, the Marine state­ment said.

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.

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.

Mis­sis­sippi Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Di­rec­tor Lee Smith­son told the Clar­ion-Ledger that the air­craft crashed on the Le­flore-Sun­flower county line in a ru­ral stretch of woods and fields with dense un­der­brush.

The plane was based at Ste­wart Air Na­tional Guard Base in New­burgh, N.Y., and of­fi­cials said some of those killed were from the base. Sev­eral bou­quets were left at the main gate of the base, which was closed to re­porters.

Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider bat­tal­ion at Camp Le­je­une, N.C., the Marine Corps said. It said the seven and their equip­ment were headed for pre­de­ploy­ment train­ing at Yuma, Ariz.

The Marine Raiders are a spe­cial op­er­a­tions force that is part of the global fight against ter­ror­ism. They carry out raids against in­sur­gents and ter­ror­ists, con­duct deep re­con­nais­sance and train for­eign mil­i­taries.

Andy Jones said he was work­ing on his fam­ily’s cat­fish farm in Mis­sis­sippi 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.”

He said the plane hit the ground be­hind some trees in a soy­bean field, and 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.

Other wit­nesses said they heard low, rum­bling ex­plo­sions when the plane was still high in the sky, saw the air­craft spi­ral­ing to­ward the flat, green land­scape and spot­ted an ap­par­ently empty para­chute float­ing to­ward the earth.

Pic­tures posted on Face­book and pub­lished by the Clar­ion-Ledger showed thick black smoke com­ing from a field. The de­bris field ap­peared to cover a large area.

In a state­ment Tues­day morn­ing, the com­man­dant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, pledged a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the crash.

“On be­half of the en­tire Marine Corps, I want to ex­press my deep­est con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies of those killed in the air­craft mishap yes­ter­day af­ter­noon in Mis­sis­sippi,” Neller said.

The KC-130 is a four-en­gine pro­pel­ler-driven air­craft that is a vari­ant of the Cold War-era C-130 Her­cules. The plane can be con­fig­ured to re­fuel air­craft in midair or equip­ment on the ground. It can also haul troops and equip­ment, and in some cases carry an ar­ray of weapons.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Thomas Gib­bon­sN­eff, Brian Mur­phy, Jeff Amy and Dan Lamothe of The

Washington Post; and by Ro­ge­lio V. So­lis and Emily Wag­ster Pet­tus of The Associated Press.

AP/WLBT-TV

Smoke and flames rise from a mil­i­tary plane that crashed Mon­day in a farm field in Itta Bena, Miss.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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