WASHINGTON (AFP) - All 16 troops aboard a Marine Corps air refueling and transport aircraft were killed when the plane crashed in a field in rural Mississippi, officials confirmed Tuesday.
The aircraft was a KC-130T from the Marine Reserves that was heading from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina on a mission to transport personnel and equipment to Naval Air Field El Centro, California, the Marine Reserves said in a statement.
The transport plane disappeared from radar over Mississippi, crashing late Monday afternoon.
"A Marine Corps KC-130 transport aircraft crashed in LeFlore County, Mississippi, on July 10 at approximately 4:00 pm CDT (2100 GMT), claiming the lives of 16 service members," the Marines said in a statement.
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 Marines said.
The cause of the crash is under investigation and the Marines did not immediately have additional information. US President Donald Trump, in a tweet, said the news was "heartbreaking." "Melania and I send our deepest condolences to all!" he added.
Mississippi congressman Steven Palazzo said on Twitter he was "devastated," and offered prayers for the families of the victims. The plane crashed in a soybean field in a largely rural area in the western part of the state.
All the victims were on the Marine Corps aircraft and there were no survivors, Leflore County emergency management director Fred Randle told CNN.
Helicopter footage taken by local news station Fox 40 showed a large gash in a green field, with fiercely burning fires sending up plumes of black smoke.
Firefighters sprayed the aircraft with huge layers of foam to quell the blaze.
Randle told NBC News that the scene was unsafe due to the presence of fuel. The FBI was on hand, along with local and state emergency responders and investigators, he said.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant called for prayers for "those hurting after this tragedy." "Our men and women in uniform risk themselves every day to secure our freedom," he said in a brief statement on Facebook.
The names of the victims were being withheld pending notification of their next of kin. Accidents involving US military aircraft are not uncommon, but rarely do they claim so many lives.
The crash of a twin-engine C-23 Sherpa in the southern state of Georgia in March 2001 claimed the lives of 21 people.
In April 2000, 19 people were killed in the crash of a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft that flies like a plane but can hover and land like a helicopter.