WASHINGTON – Defense Department officials are now filling in new aspects of the tragic crash that took place Monday evening, of a military plane in Mississippi, taking the lives of all 16 soldiers aboard, (15 marines and one Navy sailor).
The Pentagon is reporting that the flight took off from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, and plummeted to earth in a rural Leflore County, Mississippi soybean field before it could complete it’s destination in El Centro, Calif – or alternately, a Air Reserve facility in Yuma, Arizona.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant found it necessary to issue a statement asking the public to please not remove debris from the footprint of the crash area, as he had been receiving reports from state and local law enforcement that individuals were scavenging remains of the plane and its contents. Doing so, he noted, is a prosecutable offense, especially given that the debris is scattered over a number of miles and Defense Department investigators are diligently trying to draw conclusions as to the cause of the crash.
WMC5TV Memphis is reporting that an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team is at the crash site as a precaution for investigators. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, Mississippi Emergency Management Association, and other local and regional agencies are also on the scene.
The reason the ATF is involved is due to the nature of the cargo that was being carried along with the passengers and crew of the KC-130T – a significant amount of weapons and ammunition.
So far, investigators are attributing the unusually wide scattering of the fuselage of the aircraft and its contents, to an in the air explosion, making it all but certain that the occupants died instantly before the remainder of the plane hit the ground.
Major Andrew Aranda, a Marine Corps public affairs officer, told WMC5TV that no indication they have seen gives them any reason to believe foul play was involved.
Aranda said the Marine Corps will investigate every aspect of the crash in order to determine what went wrong and how to keep it from ever happening again. “Every thing is going to be looked at, and if there are lessons that can be learned, they will be implemented,” Aranda said.
KC-130 crashes are not frequent, and although the KC-130T is to be replaced by a newer version – Alan Stinar, a former Marine sergeant and engine mechanic who was an inspector of KC-130s, told the New York Times that the planes, in his experience, are “extremely reliable”, and that “these birds are not so old that they need to be retired — at least, from the mechanic’s point of view.”
The Marines in the squadron – the VMGR-452, was stationed mostly out of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, which is 60 miles north of New York City. The VMGR-452 – a refueling unit, participated in Operation Desert Storm/Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Maj. Nicholas Mannweiler, a spokesman for the Marines’ Special Operations Command told reporters that the VMGR-452 command, created in 2006, is the newest — and, at about 2,800 troops, the smallest — of the military’s elite special operations forces, along with the better-known Navy Seals and Army Special Forces.
Major Mannweiler said the the team, nicknamed the Raiders were scheduled to conduct “routine” training in Yuma, Ariz., of an unspecified duration, for small combat teams preparing for deployment overseas.
Yesterday evenings’ crash is the Marines’ deadliest since 2005, when 31 Marines were killed in a CH-35 crash in al-Anbar Province in Iraq.
Photo Credit – (Elijah Baylis/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)