MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The military says the plane that crashed in LeFlore County, Mississippi took off from an air station in Cherry Point, North Carolina.
The group was from New York and were delivering personnel and equipment to a base in California.
Monday afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration contacted the Marine Corps after one of their KC-130 planes, which is often used for airborne refueling and the delivery of cargo, troops and equipment, "experienced a mishap" and disappeared from radar.
The 16 service members who were killed will not be identified pending the notification of their loved ones.
"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 Marine Corps stated.
The plane crashed in a soybean field just off of Highway 82 near the Leflore-Sunflower county line.
Andy Jones told the Associated Press he was working on his family’s catfish farm just before 4 p.m. when he heard a boom and looked up to see the plane corkscrewing downward with one engine smoking.
“You looked up and you saw the plane twirling around,” he said. “It was spinning down.”
Jones said the plane hit the ground behind trees in the soybean field, and by the time he and other reached the crash site, fires were burning too intensely to approach the wreckage.
The force of the crash nearly flattened the plane, Jones said.
“Beans are about waist-high, and there wasn’t much sticking out above the beans,” he said.
Jones said a man borrowed his cellphone to report to authorities that there were bodies across U.S. Highway 82, more than a mile from the crash site.
Greenwood Fire Chief Marcus Banks told the Greenwood Commonwealth that debris from the plane was scattered in a radius of about 5 miles.
Jones said firefighters tried to put out the fire at the main crash site but withdrew after an explosion forced them back.
The fire produced towering plumes of black smoke visible for miles across the flat region and continued to burn after dusk, more than four hours after the crash.
Many expressed their condolences after the crash.
North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis said in a statement Tuesday morning that he and his wife were extending their deepest condolences to the families of the Marines killed, as well as to the Cherry Point station.
The cause of the crash has not been determined.