July 12, 2017 10:35:53 AM
ITTA BENA -- With debris scattered for miles across the flat countryside of the Mississippi Delta, federal and local officials combed soybean fields for clues in a military plane crash that killed 15 Marines and a Navy sailor.
Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and were headed for pre-deployment training in Yuma, Arizona, the Marine Corps said Tuesday.
Several bouquets were left at the main gate of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, where the plane was based. Officials said some of those killed were from the base, but Stewart was closed to reporters and did not issue a statement.
"We're feeling the pain that everybody else is," Robert Brush said after dropping off three pots of red, white and blue petunias. He works for a landscaping company that serves the base.
Military officials continued to withhold the names of the dead, saying they were notifying family members.
Witnesses said they heard low, rumbling explosions when the plane was still high in the sky Monday, saw the aircraft spiraling toward the flat, green landscape and spotted an apparently empty parachute floating toward the earth. It was the deadliest Marine Corps air disaster since 2005, when a transport helicopter went down during a sandstorm in Iraq, killing 30 Marines and a sailor.
The crash happened outside the small town of Itta Bena about 85 miles north of the state capital of Jackson. Bodies were found more than a mile from the plane.
The Marine Corps said the cause was under investigation and offered no information on whether the plane issued a distress call.
FBI agents joined military investigators, though Marine Maj. Andrew Aranda told reporters no foul play was suspected.
"They are looking at the debris and will be collecting information off of that to figure out what happened," Aranda said.
The county coroner, meanwhile, ferried more body bags into fields to remove remains.
The KC-130 is used to refuel aircraft in flight and transport cargo and troops.
Will Nobile, a catfish farmer, said he was inside his office Monday afternoon when he heard an unusually loud rumble in the sky.
"It sounded like a big thunderstorm," Nobile said. "Not one big explosion, but a couple of second-long explosions. ... A long, steady rumble is what it was."
He walked outside to see what was making the noise in the cloudless afternoon and saw a "gray streak" disappear behind some trees, and then black smoke rising.
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