De­bris field foren­sics

Gen­eral’s com­ments cor­re­spond with eye­wit­ness ac­counts of KC-130’s de­scent

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JEFF AMY

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.

AP/The Clar­ion-Ledger/ELI­JAH BAYLIS

AP/The Florida Times-Union/BOB MACK

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.

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