7 Camp Lejeune-based service members killed in military plane cr - | WBTV Charlotte

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7 Camp Lejeune-based service members killed in military plane crash

(SOURCE: WLBT) (SOURCE: WLBT)

ITTA BENA, Miss. (AP/WBTV) - A Marine Corps refueling plane from North Carolina crashed and burned in a soybean field in the Mississippi Delta, killing all 16 military members aboard in a wreck that scattered debris for miles and sent a pillar of black smoke rising over the countryside.

It was the deadliest Marine crash - in the U.S. or abroad - since 2005.

Fifteen Marines and a Navy corpsman were on board the KC-130 tanker when it corkscrewed into the ground Monday afternoon about 85 miles (135 kilometers) north of Jackson, the state capital, military officials said. A witness said some bodies were found more than a mile away.

Seven of the U.S. troops killed in the Mississippi plane crash were special operations forces based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Six were Marines and one was a sailor.

The Marine Corps refueling and cargo plane went down in a soybean field on Monday and killed 16 military members in all. The Marines said Tuesday that the air tanker was based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, and headed to California.

One of the plane's stops was in North Carolina, presumably to pick up the seven commandos. The plane was scheduled to drop them and their equipment off for training at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, and fly on to a naval air field at El Centro, California. The seven commandos were from the Camp Lejeune-based 2nd Marine Raider Battalion.

“The flight originated from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.," a press release from the Marine Forces Reserve states. "Federal Aviation Administration officials contacted the Marine Corps when the aircraft disappeared from air traffic control radar over Mississippi. The cause of the crash is unknown at this time; the incident is under investigation.“

NC Senator Richard Burr released a statement on the crash Tuesday afternoon.

“My prayers are with the families of the fifteen Marines and one Navy corpsman who lost their lives in yesterday’s accident. Sadly, we fear that seven of these individuals hailed from Camp Lejeune," Burr said. "Every day, our bravest men and women put their lives on the line to ensure our freedoms. I’m heartbroken that this tragic event has happened, and I stand with the Unites States Marine Corps and the United States Navy as they mourn the losses of their own.”

The KC-130 is used to refuel aircraft in flight. The flight originated from the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and was taking people and equipment to Naval Air Field El Centro, California, when it went down, officials said.

Some of the Marines killed were from a reserve squadron based in Newburgh, New York, the military said.

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.

"Beans are about waist-high, 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 U.S. Highway 82, more than a mile from the crash site.

Greenwood Fire Chief Marcus Banks told the Greenwood Commonwealth that debris was scattered in a radius of about 5 miles (8 kilometers).

Jones said firefighters tried to put out the fire but withdrew after an explosion forced them back.

The fierce blaze, punctuated by small explosions, produced black smoke visible for miles across the flat region and continued to burn after dusk, more than four hours later.

"The identities of the service members whose lives were lost in this tragic accident are being withheld to allow time for their loved ones to be notified," the Marine Forces Reserve says. 

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. WBTV contributed to this article. All rights reserved.

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