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Marine General: ‘Something Went Wrong At Cruise Altitude’ Before Deadly Military Plane Crash

ITTA BENA, Miss. (CBSNewYork/AP) — As officials investigate a deadly military plane crash in Mississippi, a Marine general says the plane was at cruise altitude when the problem developed.

Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James, commanding general, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve, said “indications are that something went wrong at cruise altitude.”

The crash of the KC-130 killed 15 Marines and a Navy sailor. Nine Marines were stationed at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York and six Marines and a Navy Corpsman were from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Officials say debris from the KC-130 is scattered over two to three miles and that it likely will take between five and six days to clean up.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has also warned people not to remove debris from the area and said that anyone taking something could be prosecuted.

Bryant, in statements Tuesday on Twitter, said law enforcement authorities have received reports that items are being taken from the crash site.

Sheriff’s deputies and state troopers have been trying to control access to sites, but the broad area and number of roads makes that difficult. Bryant asked people to stay away and turn debris over to authorities.

Meanwhile, several bouquets were left at the main gate of Stewart Air National Guard Base, where the plane was also based.

“We’ve had significant loss of life and that will affect members of our own family here from Stewart National Guard Base,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney said.

“A number of them are married with young children,” Orange County Executive Steve Newhouse, who is himself a reservist, told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “I’ve seen this before and it’s really tragic.”

“We’re feeling the pain that everybody else is,” Robert Brush said after dropping off three pots of red, white and blue petunias. He works for a landscaping company that serves the base.

Military officials continued to withhold the names of the dead, saying they are waiting until 24 hours after notifying family members.

But one of the fallen Marines has been identified by his brother as 31-year-old Marine Julian Kevianne from the Detroit area living in New Windsor, New York.

His wife was notified about the crash early Tuesday morning, CBS2’s Magdalena Doris reported. Too distraught to speak on camera, his family wants people to know he was the perfect gentleman.

Marine Joshua Snowden was also on board, Doris reported. Neighbors say he was a friendly guy from Texas — the flag of his home state proudly displayed on his mailbox in Monroe in Orange County.

On Wednesday, a tweet by Monmouth County, New Jersey said, “The Freeholders mourn US Marine Dan Baldassare of Colts Neck, killed in the military plane crash. We are forever grateful for his service.”

Another Marine killed was 46-year-old Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson of Vermont. His father, Kevin Johnson, described him as a gentle man who loved to fly.

“He was looking forward to retirement next year,” he said. “He said it was time to move on and let some of the other kids take over.”

The KC-130 plane originated Monday from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. The refueling aircraft was taking people and equipment to Naval Air Field El Centro, California when it spiraled into the field near Itta Bena and burst into flames Monday afternoon.

“They were on a mission to transport personnel and equipment,” Marine Maj. Andrew Aranda said.

Witnesses said they heard low, rumbling explosions when the plane was still high in the sky Monday, saw the aircraft spiraling toward the flat, green landscape and spotted an apparently empty parachute floating toward the earth. Bodies were found more than a mile from the plane.

It was the deadliest Marine Corps air disaster since 2005, when a transport helicopter went down during a sandstorm in Iraq, killing 30 Marines and a sailor.

The Marine Corps said the cause was under investigation and offered no information on whether the plane issued a distress call. FBI agents joined military investigators, though Aranda told reporters no foul play was suspected.

“They are looking at the debris and will be collecting information off of that to figure out what happened,” Aranda said. The county coroner, meanwhile, ferried more body bags into fields to remove remains.

The KC-130 is used to refuel aircraft in flight and transport cargo and troops.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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