By Rogelio V. Solis and Emily Wagster Pettus
ITTA BENA, Miss. — A Marine Corps refueling plane 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.
The Marines gave no immediate details on the cause of the crash. The FBI joined the investigation, but Marine Maj. Andrew Aranda told reporters no foul play was suspected.
The KC-130 is used to refuel aircraft in flight and transport cargo and troops.
The air tanker was based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, and was on its way from a Marine installation at Cherry Point, North Carolina, to a naval air field at El Centro, California, when it went down, officials 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 a highway, 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 produced black smoke visible for miles across the flat region and continued to burn after dusk, more than four hours later.
In 2005, a Marine transport helicopter crashed during a sandstorm in Iraq, killing 30 Marines and a sailor.
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