Evidence From Marine KC-130 Crash Site Points to Mid-Air Disaster

In this photo provided by Jimmy Taylor, smoke and flames rise into the air after a military transport airplane crashed in a field near Itta Bena, Miss., on the western edge of Leflore County, July 10, 2017, killing several. (Jimmy Taylor via AP)

A Marine Corps KC-130T transport aircraft that went down over Mississippi on Monday left not one, but two major impact sites, located roughly a mile apart, the commander of the reserve unit that owned the aircraft said Wednesday.

In a press conference held in LeFlore County, Mississippi, Brig. Gen. Bradley James, commander of the 4th Marine Air Wing, said officials first had indications that something was wrong on the flight when the air traffic control tower lost contact with the plane, nicknamed Yankee 72, around 4 p.m. Central Time on Monday.

The aircraft, which belonged to Marine Aerial Refueling Squadron (VMGR)-452, out of Newburgh, New York, had been tasked with transporting six Marines and a sailor belonging to Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command from Cherry Point, North Carolina to Yuma, Arizona, for team-level pre-deployment training. The route of the flight would take it through Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, James said.

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Shortly after air traffic controllers lost contact, James said, large plumes of smoke were discovered in the area of Itta Bena, Mississippi. The two impact areas were located half a mile north and south of Mississippi's U.S. Route 82.

"Indications are, something went wrong at cruise altitude," James said. "There is a large debris pattern."

All 16 troops aboard the aircraft, including the seven from MARSOC's 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and nine Marine aircrew from VMGR-452, perished in the crash. Their names are being withheld by the military in observance of a 24-hour period following family notification.

It remains unclear what event could have caused the aircraft to break apart prior to impact, as the evidence indicates.

James took no questions Wednesday but expressed thanks to, among others, the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Mississippi Department of Homeland Security; and Army and Air Force explosive ordnance disposal teams, all of which have provided assistance in the wake of the crash.

Marine officials said yesterday EOD teams had been posted at the crash sites as a safety precaution. Officials are preserving the impact sites in order to conduct an investigation into what caused the crash, James said.

Marshall Fisher, commissioner of Mississippi's Department of Public Safety, warned the public to avoid touching pieces of plane wreckage they might encounter and to report any such findings to state officials. The crash area has been secured, he said.

Marine Corps officials are expected to announce the names of the fallen in coming days.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.