Black smoke billowed from a field in rural western Mississippi on Monday, alerting nearby residents to a military transport plane that had crashed in a soybean farm in Leflore County, killing 16 service members. They comprise 15 Marines and one Navy Corpsman, the Marine Corps said in a statement.
Andrew Aranda, a spokesperson for the Marine Forces Reserve, a unit under the Marine Corps, said there do not appear to be any survivors from the crash. In a statement, the Marine Forces Reserve said it is withholding the identities of the service members who lost their lives until their loved ones have been notified.
The plane was a KC-130 aircraft typically used by the Marine Corps for aerial refueling. It took off from a Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina, before vanishing from the air traffic control radar somewhere over Mississippi and crashing at approximately 4 pm CDT, the Marine Forces Reserve said in a statement.
The cause of the crash is still unknown at the moment, but the incident is under investigation.
“The investigation will be handled with all the seriousness that all aviation accidents require,” Aranda said in an interview. “The process will not be rushed in any way.”
Marcus Banks, the chief of the fire department in Greenwood, a city in Leflore County, said witnesses have described the plane as disintegrating in the air as it dove toward the ground.
"You looked up and you saw the plane twirling around," Andy Jones, a local farmer, told the Associated Press. "It was spinning down."
President Trump expressed his condolences in a tweet this morning: “Marine Plane crash in Mississippi is heartbreaking. Melania and I send our deepest condolences to all!”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), chair of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel, also issued a statement on the accident.
"Susan and I send our deepest condolences to the families of the Marines who lost their lives in service to our nation,” Tillis wrote, referring to his wife. “This is a tragic reminder of the dangers our service members are confronted with on a daily basis, including the training missions that are needed to help keep our nation safe at home and abroad."