A Marine Corps plane crashed in Mississippi on July 10, killing at least 16 people.
The tragedy occurred in occurred around 4 p.m. in Leflore County, north of Jackson, in one of the South's most rural areas, reports The New York Times. An urgent rescue effort is underway.
The estimate of at least 16 dead was offered by Fred Randle, the emergency management director in Leflore County, who gave a brief interview following the crash. Marcus Banks, the Greenwood fire chief, cited only "multiple fatalities."
Sarah Burns, a Marine Corps spokeswoman at the Pentagon, explained that one of the service's KC-130 aircraft had “experienced a mishap.” The Marines have not yet provided any additional information, including the plane’s scheduled route.
Chief Banks, who estimated that the debris field was about three miles in diameter, said witnesses described the plane as disintegrating in the air as it neared the ground.
The Fire Department used about 9,000 gallons of foam to extinguish a blaze, said Banks, who surmised that the cockpit and fuselage had landed about a mile from one of the plane's wings.
One eyewitness, Andy Jones, was working on his family's catfish farm when he heard a boom and saw the plane falling helplessly toward the ground, reports the Daily Mail. "You looked up and you saw the plane twirling around," he said. "It was spinning down."
Another eyewitness, 68-year-old Edna Beavers, described a huge plume of black smoke rising from a soybean field about a mile away. "I was like, 'Oh my God,'" she said in an interview on the night of the incident.
She said the plane crashed along County Road 547, which connects acres of farmland between the towns of Itta Bena and Moorhead. Following the disaster, a military jet circled overhead, she said.
Although military aircrafts are a common sight in the skies of rural Mississippi, Beavers said she did not hear the doomed plane fly overhead or hear it crash. Smoke was still rising from the fields after sunset, she added.
"That is a sad situation there," she concluded.
Military officials were reportedly traveling to the crash scene, according to Mayor Carolyn McAdams of Greenwood, the county seat, named after famous Choctaw Chief Greenwood Leflore.
When queried about the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency deferred to the military.
The FBI was also reportedly sending employees to the scene, but foul play is not believed to have been involved in the crash, said Brett Carr, spokesman for the bureau's office in Jackson.
"We’re just trying to offer any type of assistance," he said. "It could be anything from manpower to evidence response."
Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi expressed his condolences after the crash. "Please join Deborah and me in praying for those hurting after this tragedy," he said in a statement, referring to his wife. "Our men and women in uniform risk themselves every day to secure our freedom."