A U.S. military plane crashed into a field in rural Mississippi on Monday, killing at least 16 people on board and spreading debris for kilometres, officials said.
Leflore County Emergency Management Agency Director Frank Randle told reporters at a late briefing that 16 bodies had been recovered after the KC-130 spiralled into the ground about 135 kilometres north of Jackson, Miss., in the Mississippi Delta.
Marine Corps spokesperson Capt. Sarah Burns said in a statement that a KC-130 “experienced a mishap” Monday evening but provided no details. The KC-130 is used as a refuelling tanker.
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 corkscrewing downward with one engine smoking.
“You looked up and you saw the plane twirling around,” he said. “It was spinning down.”
Jones said the plane hit the ground behind some trees in a soybean field, and 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.
Debris, bodies scattered
Jones said a man borrowed his cellphone to report to authorities that there were bodies across U.S. Highway 82, more than a kilometre from the crash site.
Greenwood Fire Chief Marcus Banks told the Greenwood Commonwealth that debris from the plane was scattered in a radius of about eight kilometres.
Jones said firefighters tried to put out the fire at the main crash site but withdrew after an explosion forced them back. The fire produced towering plumes of black smoke visible for kilometres across the flat region and continued to burn after dusk, more than four hours after the crash.
Aerial pictures taken by WLBT-TV showed the skeleton of the plane burning strongly.
“It was one of the worst fires you can imagine,” Jones said. He said the fire was punctuated by the pops of small explosions.
Officials did not release information on what caused the crash or where the flight originated.