U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 Crash Kills 16 People
Deadliest Marine air accident since 2005
At 5:00 P.M. eastern time on July 10, 2017, a Marine Corps Reserve KC-130T aerial refueling tanker crashed in Le Flore County, Mississippi, killing 15 Marines and one U.S. Navy corpsman—the deadliest Marine Corps aviation accident since a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2005.
The KC-130T had taken off from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina and reportedly landed for refueling in Memphis, Tennessee.
While VMGR-252, an active-duty KC-130J unit, is stationed at Cherry Point, the transport actually came from Marine Aerial Refueling Transport Squadron 452 of the 4th Marine Air Wing, a Marine Forces Reserve unit based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York.
Unlike the modernized KC-130J variant that predominates in Marine Corps service, the KC-130T is an upgrade of the older C-130H transport.
While flying at 20,000 feet, the KC-130 suddenly began spinning out of control towards the ground and ceased responding to radio transmissions. Video footage of the aftermath shows the flaming remains of the plane completely flattened in a soybean field close to U.S. Highway 82, 85 miles north of Jackson, Mississippi.
The wreckage burned for at least six hours, casting tall plumes of black smoke high into the air. Greenwood Fire Department chief Marcus Banks reported his fire fighters expended 4,000 gallons of fire-retardant foam combating the blaze, which repeatedly exploded and flared up so violently that they were forced to pull back at one point.
The plane was reportedly carrying small arms and ammunition which may have cooked off after the crash, leading to a explosive disposal unit also being dispatched to the crash site.
Debris and human remains from the airplane are reportedly scattered in a five-mile radius from the site of the crash. As of the morning of July 11, 2017, local police were still blocking a nearby road intersection, as the crash site is still considered unsafe, according to the Clarion Ledger newspaper.
Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns described the accident as a “mishap,” while an official at Greenwood Airport in Tennessee characterized the KC-130 as experiencing a “structural failure.” Some locals claim to have seen the plane spinning into the ground in flames, or smoking from one wing.
The KC-130 is an aerial refueling tanker variant of the ubiquitous C-130 Hercules transport plane. Unlike U.S. Air Force jet-engine tankers such as the KC-135, the turboprop powered KC-130 can operate from more primitive airfields and not only refuels jet fighters but also helps keep Marine Corps helicopters and Osprey tilt-rotors aloft on long-range missions.
It’s capable of refueling two aircraft at a time via trailing wing-mounted hoses that can pump 300 gallons of fuel a minute. The KC-130 can also do double duty as a cargo plane, with a maximum capacity of 92 ground troops. Furthermore, the Harvest Moon variant of the KC-130J can also serve as a missile-toting gunship and observation plane equipped with an infrared sensor pod and Hellfire and Griffin missiles.
While there were a number KC-130 accidents in the 1960s and ’70s, there have only been four since the turn of the century, including the deadly crash of an Indonesian air force KC-130B on June 30, 2015, and a non-fatal take-off accident involving an Italian Air Force KC-130J in 2009.
In 2002, there were two crashes involving Marines Corps KC-130s. On Jan. 9, 2017, a KC-130R from VGMR-352 crashed into a mountain while approaching Shamsi, Pakistan, killing all seven crew. Little over a month later on Feb. 12, 2002, a KC-130F from VGMR-252 crash landed at Twenty Nine Palms, California due to lack of fuel, with all of the crew surviving.
Following the accident, military, state and national officials have all expressed their condolences for the tragic incident. The KC-130 typically has a crew of four to six, which suggests that additional personnel were on board as part of the transport mission on July 10. The Marine Corps is currently informing the family of the deceased before releasing the names of the crew to the public.