LEFLORE COUNTY, Miss. — The horrifying scene even rattled first responders.
"It comes close to home. Having served, I have a feel for what these guys go through," said Greenwood Fire Chief Marcus Banks. Banks served in the military and even flew on the type of cargo plane that crashed and became engulfed in flames.
"That's personal when you find out, when the initial call came in and I found out it was a military plane I actually flew on," he said.
Monday evening, authorities say a military transport plane exploded in the air, plunging 20,000 feet into a soybean field in Leflore County and killing 15 Marines and a sailor.
"They were on a training flight from Cherry Point, North Carolina to El Centro, California. They were on a mission to transport personnel and equipment," said Maj. Andrew Aranda, public affairs officer for the Marines.
Authorities say the equipment, including fuel and ammo, is now scattered throughout the crops.
Aranda said they're "looking at debris, collecting information off that to figure out what happened."
Investigators have been combing the scene all day by foot and by air. They say the crash site has about a five-mile radius.
Meanwhile, many stood along the highway Tuesday, offering prayers and paying tribute to 16 fallen heroes.
"Offer support. Think about the families that just lost their loved ones," retired Marine Arthur Ware said.
Though officials haven't released the names of those on board, family members have identified one of the Marines killed as Dan Baldassare from Colts Neck, New Jersey.
Friends say he was 20 years old. He played football at the local high school and told friends he was going to be a Marine.
"He would actually bring military gloves to practice and play football with them," said a friend who would drive with him to and from football practice.