Debris field forensics
General’s comments correspond with eyewitness accounts of KC-130’s descent
Military personnel search a bean field Wednesday at the site where a military transport plane crashed Monday in the Mississippi Delta near Itta Bena, killing 15 Marines and a Navy corpsman. Marine Brig. Gen. Bradley James said Wednesday that the plane apparently developed problems at cruising altitude and left a “large debris pattern,” including two main impact areas.
JACKSON, Miss. — The military transport plane that crashed 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 James said Wednesday at a news conference in Itta Bena, Miss. That squares with comments from witnesses who said they saw the plane descend from high altitude with an engine smoking.
James did not specify what he meant by “cruise altitude.” As a propeller-driven craft, the KC-130 does not fly as high as similar-size jets. It can go above 30,000 feet with a relatively light load, but it generally cruises below that level.
The crash killed nine Marines from Newburgh, N.Y., and six Marines and a Navy corpsman from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, James said.
James said here 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.”
Fisher, who also spoke at Wednesday’s 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 make it difficult to control access.
Fisher urged people to call the ATF if they find anything.
Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks said the debris is spread across 2 to 3 miles of farmland. He estimated Wednesday that it will take investigators five or six days to sift the wreckage and clean up the site where the plane crashed.
Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune and were headed for pre-deployment training in Yuma, Ariz., the Marine Corps said Tuesday.
Marine Maj. Andrew Aranda said Wednesday that 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, N.Y., where the plane was based.
“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.
The crash 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.
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 that 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 to transport cargo and troops.
Information for this article was contributed by Emily Wagster Pettus, Rogelio Solis and Michael Hill of The Associated Press and by Ellen Ann Fentress, Richard Perez-Pena and Dave Philipps of The New York Times.
Terry Murray, father of Marines Sgt. Joseph Murray, talks about his son Wednesday during a news conference in Jacksonville, Fla. Sgt. Murray was one of the Marines killed in a plane crash Monday in Mississippi.