The FBI reportedly has joined local and state agencies to investigate what caused a U.S. military plane to corkscrew out of the sky and into a Mississippi field on Monday, killing at least 16.
A KC-130, used as a refueling tanker, "experienced a mishap" when it spiraled down about 4 p.m. into a soybean field, about 85 miles north of Jackson, the Marine Corps said. The aircraft's debris scattered in a radius of about 5 miles.
Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks told The Associated Press that officials were continuing to look for possible survivors. Banks earlier told the Greenwood Commonwealth 16 people were believed to be on board, but would not confirm that information to The Associated Press.
"We're still searching the area," Banks said. "It's hard to find bodies in the dark."
The Marine Corps said it operated the plane but has provided no information on where the flight originated or where it was going.
Alan Hammons, an official at Greenwood Airport, told WNCN that the aircraft suffered a "structural failure" at 20,000 feet. The Clarion Ledger reported that the plane departed from Naval Support Activity Mid-South Base in Millington, Tenn.
An intense fire, fed by jet fuel, hampered firefighters, causing them to turn to unmanned devices in an attempt to control the flames, authorities said. There were several high-intensity explosions.
Aerial pictures taken by WLBT-TV showed the skeleton of the plane burning, producing plumes of black smoke visible for miles across the flat landscape of the delta.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence offered their condolences to the people who died in the crash.
"Marine Plane crash in Mississippi is heartbreaking. Melania and I send our deepest condolences to all!" the president tweeted Tuesday morning.
"Karen & I are praying for the families of the Marines who lost their lives. These Marines will be in our hearts," Pence also said on Twitter.
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A Marine Corps KC-130 on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base ramp preparing for takeoff, in Cherry Point, North Carolina, March 19, 2016. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Wesley Farnsworth)
Andy Jones, who works on his family's catfish farm nearby, said he heard a boom and looked up to see the plane "spinning" 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 some trees in the soybean field, and by the time he and others 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. "It was one of the worst fires you can imagine."
Jones added the fire was punctuated by the pops of small explosions.
Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.