This post has been updated to include additional information from the Marine Corps and a statement from Commandant Gen. Robert Neller.
A Marine Corps KC-130T plane crashed in a field in northwest Mississippi on Monday and killed the 16 service members onboard the plane, the Marine Corps confirmed this morning, making this the deadliest Marine Corps aviation mishap since 2005.
The plane departed Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., on Monday afternoon on a personnel and equipment transport mission to Naval Air Field El Centro, Calif. The plane was flown by Marines from the reserve unit Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron (VMGR) 452, Marine Air Group-49, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve.
Among the passengers were six Marines and a Navy corpsman from the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion under Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. The Camp Lejeune-based MARSOC personnel were being transported to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona for small unit pre-deployment training.
The plane crashed around 4 p.m. Central Daylight Time. Federal Aviation Administration officials contacted the Marine Corps when the aircraft disappeared from air traffic control radar over Mississippi, according to a Marine Corps statement. The cause of the crash is still unknown.
The Associated Press and CBS News reported that an official with the local Greenwood Airport said the KC-130 suffered a structural failure while flying at 20,000 feet altitude. Local media had also reported several explosions after the crash. A statement from Marine Forces Reserve notes that small arms ammunition and personal weapons were being transported on the plane and that an explosive ordnance disposal unit had been dispatched to the crash scene as a precaution.
The Marine Corps on Monday evening only confirmed this evening that “a USMC KC-130 experienced a mishap the evening of July 10″ and would not elaborate on the units involved or the location of departure until families of the victims were notified. The Marines’ Tuesday morning statement did not specify the service affiliation of the 16 service members aboard; however, in a confirmation hearing Tuesday morning, Navy secretary nominee Richard V. Spencer said 15 Marines and one sailor died in the crash, and the Marine Corps later confirmed that the one sailor was a corpsman in a Marine unit.
The loss of 16 lives makes this the deadliest Marine Corps aviation mishap in 12 years. Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns confirmed that the last time 16 or more people died in a Marine Corps aviation incident was on Jan. 26, 2005, when 31 died in a CH-53E crash in al-Anbar Province in Iraq. More recently, in January 2016 two CH-53Es crashed during a training event in Hawaii, killing 12. In May 2015 six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers died when a UH-1Y Huey helicopter crashed during a humanitarian assistance/disaster response mission in Nepal after a major earthquake. And in March 2015 seven Marines with the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and four Louisiana National Guardsmen died when their UH-60 Blackhawk crashed in Florida during a training mission.
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said in a statement this morning, “On behalf of the entire Marine Corps, I want to express my deepest condolences to the families of those killed in the aircraft mishap yesterday afternoon in Mississippi. Please keep the families of our 16 fallen service members in your thoughts and prayers. Our focus remains on notifying and supporting the families while we conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of this tragedy.”
President Donald Trump expressed his sympathy this morning via Twitter, writing “Marine Plane crash in Mississippi is heartbreaking. Melania and I send our deepest condolences to all!”
The Lockheed Martin-built KC-130T is a four-engine turboprop plane that conducts air-to-air refueling and passenger and cargo airlift. The plane has a crew of six and can carry up to 92 ground troops when used for troop transport, according to a Naval Air Systems Command fact sheet.
The following is a statement from Marine Corps Special Operations Command:
A Marine Corps KC-130 transport aircraft crashed in LeFlore County, Miss., on July 10 at approximately 4 p.m. CDT, with 16 service members missing and presumed deceased. The aircraft was transporting six Marines and one Navy sailor from Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command and their associated equipment for routine small unit pre-deployment training at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. All seven were from the Camp Lejeune-based 2d Marine Raider Battalion.
The identities of the service members whose lives were lost in this tragic incident are being withheld to allow time for notification of their next of kin. While the details of the crash are under investigation, MARSOC is providing all available resources and support to the family, friends and teammates of these Raiders as we all mourn this tragic loss of life.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire MARSOC family at this time,” said the MARSOC chief of staff. “The incredible demands of this dangerous and demanding calling forge some of the tightest unit and family bonds found in the U.S. military. This loss impacts us all.”
The following is the full statement from Marine Forces Reserve:
The Marine aircraft that crashed Monday evening was a KC-130T from Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron (VMGR) 452, Marine Air Group-49, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve. The flight originated from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., as the squadron was supporting a requirement to transport personnel and equipment from there to Naval Air Field El Centro, Calif.
The crew and passengers consisted of 15 Marines and one Navy Corpsman. Equipment on board included various small arms ammunition and personal weapons. An Explosive Ordnance Disposal team is at the scene as a precaution in the interest of safety.
The identities of the personnel whose lives were lost in this tragic accident are still being withheld to allow time for their loved ones to be notified appropriately. While the details of the incident are being investigated, our focus remains on providing the necessary resources and support to the family and friends of these service members as they go through this extremely difficult time.
The following is a statement from Lt. Gen. Rex McMillian, commander of Marines Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North:
“On behalf of the Marine Corps Reserve, I extend my deepest sympathies to the loved ones of those who perished in last night’s tragedy. The Marines and Sailor involved in this incident were among our finest. They dedicated their lives to our core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. They will never be forgotten.”
The following is the full statement from Marine Corps Headquarters:
A Marine Corps KC-130 transport aircraft crashed in LeFlore County, Miss., on July 10 at approximately 4 p.m. CDT, claiming the lives of 16 service members. The flight originated from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. Federal Aviation Administration officials contacted the Marine Corps when the aircraft disappeared from air traffic control radar over Mississippi. The cause of the crash is unknown at this time; the incident is under investigation.
The identities of the service members whose lives were lost in this tragic accident are being withheld to allow time for their loved ones to be notified. While the details of the incident are being investigated, our focus remains on providing the necessary resources and support to the family and friends of these service members as they go through this extremely difficult time. More information will be released as it becomes available.