Fifteen Marines and a Navy corpsman are dead following a Mississippi KC-130T plane crash that occurred in the northern part of the state during a transportation flight. Some of the military service members on board have been identified publicly by friends and families, but the military has yet to release a full list of names. It is believed to be the worst Marine plane crash since 2005.
Service Members Were on Their Way to California Naval Facility when Mississippi KC-130T Plane Crash Occurred
The Mississippi KC-130T plane crash occurred on Monday, July 10, 2017, as the 16 military service members were being transported to Naval Air Facility El Centro in California. They had departed that morning from a Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina. Six of the Marines and the sole sailor on board were ultimately going to be taken to the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona, for "routine small unit pre-deployment training," according to a statement from the Marine Corps.
Calls reporting the military plane crash came in at about 4:00 p.m. and cited the aircraft as being in Leflore County, Mississippi, approximately 85 miles north of the state's capital, Jackson. The Marine Forces Reserve said in a statement that the plane had disappeared from air traffic control radar somewhere over Mississippi, but did not further detail the last point of communication.
Witnesses Heard Explosions and Saw Plane Spiraling Toward Ground
It was the noise from the Mississippi KC-130T plane crash that first drew the attention of nearby witnesses. Will Nobile, whose office is not far from the site of the plane crash, said the noise was enough to inspire him to walk outside to see what was happening.
Names and reason behind the accident are not yet available. RIP to the Marines on board.... https://t.co/nbn4CIW6V9— Stolen Valor (@StolenValor1) July 11, 2017
"It sounded like a big thunderstorm," Nobile said in an interview with Fox29.com "Not one big explosion, but a couple of second-long explosions." Once he was outside, Nobile says that he saw both a cloudless sky and a "gray streak" that ended in a cluster of trees. Soon after, black smoke began to rise to the sky from the same spot.
Noise was also what caught the attention of Andy Jones, who was at work on his family's catfish farm near the Mississippi KC-130T plane crash site when it happened. Jones heard a boom that drew his attention upward to the sky and then saw a plane spiraling downward in the direction of a nearby soybean field. A trail of white smoke was following the plane, which disappeared into the trees with another explosive noise.
"At first it looked like an acrobatic plane, like a stunt plane, blowing the smoke out the back," Jones said when speaking with CNN. "Then all of a sudden you realized that the smoke was coming off one of the sides of the wing."
Both Jones and Nobile drove over to the crash site, but found there was little they could do to help. Raging fires kept them at a distance, and it was clear that the plane had been very nearly crushed upon impact.
"Beans are about waist-high," Jones continued in his interview with Fox29.com, referring to the soybean field where the crash happened. "And there wasn't much sticking out above the beans."
Another witness standing with Jones and Nobile called authorities to notify them that he had discovered bodies of the deceased over a mile away and across the highway. As the witnesses waited for emergency personnel by the Mississippi KC-130T plane crash site, Nobile says they noticed an open parachute falling from above, but that, "It didn’t look like anybody was in it." A second empty and deployed parachute was later found at a fish pond not far away.
No Cause Identified in Crash Mississippi KC-130T Plane Crash
Lt. Kristine Rascicot, a spokeswoman for the Marine Corps, identified the aircraft involved in the crash as a USMC KC-130T, which is modified from the KC-130T Hercules and is primarily used for aerial refueling missions. The plane is made by Lockheed Martin.
Weapons and small arms ammunitions were on board the aircraft at the time of the Mississippi KC-130T plane crash, and Greenwood Fire Chief Marcus Banks said that firefighters were kept away from the smoldering wreckage by several "high-intensity explosions" that were possibly caused by the cargo. Thousands of gallons of foam were used in an attempt to get the fire under control.
Two large impact areas left by the plane crash indicate that something went awry while the plane was at cruising altitude, according to Marines Brig. Gen. Bradley James.
The recovery phase of the investigation is underway and the military is being assisted in the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and by other state and local agencies. The National Transportation Safety Board will not be involved in the investigation because of the plane’s military status.
Names of Deceased Not Yet Released
The military will not release the names of the Mississippi KC-130T plane crash victims until at least 24 hours after all the victim's families have been contacted, but already some of the deceased have been identified through news and social media by their families and friends.
Please keep the families of our 16 fallen service members in your thoughts and prayers.@MarForRes release: https://t.co/Kzd0JA0hMF pic.twitter.com/DDdc6vD4CU— Robert B. Neller (@GenRobertNeller) July 11, 2017
Forty-six-year-old Gunnery Sergeant Brendan Johnson, 20-year-old Dan Baldassare, 31-year-old Julian Kevianne and Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden have all been identified as victims of the crash by their families. Johnson was planning to retire next year and Snowden would have celebrated his birthday in just weeks.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant took to Twitter to express his condolences to the families, and he was joined by politicians across the country, including the President, who commented on the site “Marine Plane crash in Mississippi is heartbreaking. Melania and I send our deepest condolences to all!”
The last Marine plane crash of this magnitude was a crash in Iraq in January of 2005. A CH-53E went down, killing 30 marines and a sailor.