ITTA BENA, Miss. -- A U.S. military plane used for refueling crashed into a field in rural Mississippi, killing 16 troops aboard and spreading debris for miles and creating a fiery wreckage, officials said.
Leflore County Emergency Management Agency Director Frank Randle told reporters at a late Monday briefing that 16 bodies had been recovered after the KC-130T spiraled into the ground about 85 miles (135 kilometers) north of Jackson in the Mississippi Delta.
Marine Corps spokeswoman 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 refueling tanker.
The service in statement released Tuesday morning confirmed 16 service members died in the accident, which occured around 4 p.m. local time, including 15 Marines and one sailor. Their names are being withheld until their families are notified of the incident.
The KC-130T was from Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron (VMGR) 452, Marine Air Group-49, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve, according to another statement later Tuesday.
The flight from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina was transporting personnel and equipment -- including small arms and ammunition -- to Naval Air Field El Centro, California, but disappeared from air traffic control radar over Mississippi, the Marine Corps said.
The cause of the crash is unknown and the incident is under investigation, the service said. An Explosive Ordnance Disposal team is at the scene as a precaution, it 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 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.
Jones said a man borrowed his cellphone to report to authorities that there were bodies across U.S. Highway 82, more than a mile 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 5 miles (8 kilometers).
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 miles 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.
-- Military.com contributed to this report.