The Marine Corps KC-130T that crashed Monday afternoon likely experienced a failure at cruising altitude and fell to the ground in two main pieces, the service announced today.
The Marines have still not commented on potential causes of the crash, as the investigation is ongoing. But Brig. Gen. Bradley James, Commanding General of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, told reporters in a press conference in Mississippi today that there are “two large impact areas” and that “indications are something went wrong at cruise altitude. There is a large debris pattern.”
James said at the press conference that the families of the victims – nine Marines from the reserve unit Marine Air Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 452 based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., along with six Marines and a Navy corpsman from 2nd Raider Battalion based at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. – had been notified but that the names of those 16 service members would not be released until “the next few days” out of respect for their families.
The Marines from VMGR-452, which falls under James’ 4th MAW, were tasked with transporting the 2nd Raider Battalion special operations personnel from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., to Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif. Around 4 p.m., the Federal Aviation Administration notified the Marine Corps that the plane had dropped off local radar readings. Around that time, large plumes of smoke were noticed by local residents in fields in Northwest Mississippi.
The fact that the KC-130T would experience issues at cruising altitude leading to a crash is unusual in that the airplane has among the best safety records of anything the military flies today. USNI News previously reported the Marines’ KC-130 fleet, which has included three older models before the introduction of today’s KC-130J, has experienced just two in-flight Class A mishaps before this week. Class A mishaps involve a fatality or more than $2 million in damages. In the two previous mishaps, one involved a flash fire breaking out as a plane was coming in for a landing in Pakistan, leading to a fatal crash into a mountainside, and the other occurred just after takeoff, leading to a crash landing that all personnel survived. The Marines have not seen any similar instances of a KC-130 having issues at cruising altitude.