Flags were at half-staff at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas and Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts Friday in tribute to the six airmen from the two bases who were killed in the crash on takeoff of a C-130J in Afghanistan.
Five civilian contractors were also aboard the aircraft and were killed in the crash of the cargo aircraft, and the Air Force said that there were additional casualties on the ground.
"We know we have fatalities on the ground. However, I cannot confirm the amount or disposition of them -- who they are or in what capacity they served at Jalalabad Airfield," Maj. Tony Wickman, a spokesman for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing in Afghanistan, told the Air Force Times.
Four of the airmen aboard the C-130 were assigned to the 317th Airlift Group at Dyess near Abilene. Two were assigned to the 66th Security Forces Squadron at Hanscom near Concord. The Air Force will not release their identities until 24 hours after their next of kin is notified.
The six airmen were part of the 317th Airlift Group of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing based at Bagram Airfield about 30 miles north of Kabul.
The four-prop C130J Super Hercules they were flying crashed on takeoff from the 11,000-foot runway at Jalalabad in southeaster Afghanistan shortly after midnight Afghan time Friday, the Air Force said. The crash site was within the confines of the airfield, the Air Force said.
The Taliban made claims of having shot down the aircraft but Air Force officials in Afghanistan and at the Pentagon said there were no signs that enemy action caused the crash.
Tajawar Khan, 58, who works as a caretaker near the base, said he witnessed a "huge explosion and massive fire" after hearing a "strange sound" from a plane. Khan added that the blaze "raged for several hours," NBC reported.
At Dyess, Col. Michael Bob Starr, 7th Bomb Wing commander, said, "The death of these Airmen, who died in service to our country, is a profound loss. The sadness and shock of this tragedy can be felt across the entire Dyess community, and our hearts and prayers go out to our brothers and sisters in the 317th AG."
"This is a devastating day for our Air Force and for Hanscom Air Force Base," said Col. Michael Vogel, base commander." Our hearts are heavy with sorrow as we grieve with and for the families of these brave Airmen."
In a statement, Brig. Gen. Dave Julazadeh, commander of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram, also said that there were no signs that the enemy brought down the C130.
He added, "There are no words that truly express the depths of sorrow and pain we feel for the loss of these airmen and civilians who were contributing to a free and stable Afghanistan."
In a statement, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said, "I was saddened to hear about the tragic C-130 crash which took the lives of six U.S. airmen and five civilian contractors in Jalalabad."
"While we are still trying to determine exactly what happened, this is a reminder of the risks that our men and women face serving their country in remote places all over the world. Let us not forget the importance of their service, and the critical mission they died supporting," Carter said.
At the White House, President Obama said in a statement, "Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the six U.S. airmen and five contractors who lost their lives in a military plane crash in Jalalabad."
"As we mark this terrible loss of life, we are reminded of the sacrifice brave Americans and our Afghan partners make each and every day in the name of freedom and security," Obama said.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.