Military plane crashes in Mississippi, killing at least 16

At least 16 people are killed in a US military plane crash in rural Mississippi, officials say.

ATLANTA (NYTIMES, REUTERS) – At least 16 people were believed dead after a military plane crashed in the Mississippi Delta on Monday (July 10), prompting an urgent rescue effort in one of the South’s most rural regions, US authorities said.

Fred Randle, the emergency management director in Leflore County, Mississippi, said in a brief interview late Monday that officials thought at least 16 people had died in the crash.

The fire chief in Greenwood, Marcus Banks, said only that there were “multiple fatalities” in the episode, which occurred around 4pm local time  in Leflore County, about two hours north-west of Jackson, the state capital.

A Marine Corps spokeswoman at the Pentagon, Capt Sarah Burns, said that one of the service’s KC-130 aircraft had “experienced a mishap.” The Marines, who use KC-130s for aerial refuelling, did not immediately provide any additional information, including the plane’s scheduled route.

WSOC-TV in Charlotte reported, citing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), that the flight originated from Cherry Point, North Carolina, where a Marine Corps air base is located.

The cause of the crash, in an unincorporated part of Leflore County, was not immediately clear, but Banks said witnesses described the plane as disintegrating in the air as it neared the ground. The chief estimated the debris field was about 3 miles (4.8km) in diameter.

The chief, who said the Fire Department used about 9,000 gallons of foam to extinguish a blaze, said he believed the cockpit and fuselage had fallen about a mile from one of the plane’s wings.

Mayor Carolyn McAdams of Greenwood, the county seat, said military officials were travelling to the crash scene on Monday night.

The FAA and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency referred questions to the military.

Gov Phil Bryant of Mississippi expressed his condolences after the crash. “Please join Deborah and me in praying for those hurting after this tragedy,” Bryant said in a statement. “Our men and women in uniform risk themselves every day to secure our freedom.” 

FBI spokesman Brett Carr said the agency was sending officials to the scene, but authorities did not believe foul play was involved.

“We’re just trying to offer any type of assistance,” Carr, a spokesman for the bureau’s Jackson, Mississippi office said. “It could be anything from manpower to evidence response.”

Images posted online by news organisations showed the crumpled wreckage of a plane engulfed in flames in a field surrounded by tall vegetation, with a large plume of smoke in the sky above.

The aircraft is used for air-to-air refueling, to carry cargo and perform tactical passenger missions. The plane is operated by three crew members and can carry 92 ground troops or 64 paratroopers, according to a description on the US Navy website.