Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Craig Schneider arrived on the scene of the crash of the KC 130 in Mississpi late Tuesday. Here is his first report.
Itta Bena, Miss.
The initial call said two crop duster planes had crashed. But Greenwood Fire Chief Marcus Banks could tell from the tall column of smoke that wasn't the case.
Shortly after arriving in the crash scene with his crew, he realized that there would be no survivors.
"It was thick black smoke and high intensity heat from the fire," he said.
He added, "I went into it thinking it was a recovery, not a rescue. "
His department, which was helping the local volunteer fire department, brought in an aircraft foam truck, the kind used to douse fires at airports. They fought the flames from 4:30 pm to 9 pm. Monday. And the fuselage of the plane was still burning when they, exhausted, handed off the work to the local firefighters.
"There was a lot of fuel," he said.
That was a big concern from the moment they learned that this plane has an extra fuel bladder and is used to refuel other planes in mid air.
One eyewitness said they saw an engine falling from the sky, he said. Another said they saw the plane falling apart and turning upside down in the air. The cockpit was found three miles away from the fusilasge, which crashed down into a soybean field. The smoke from the crash could be seen six miles away in Greenwood.
The emotional toll hit hard here in a place known for its quiet small town life, he said.
The crash site is not far from Mississippi Valley State University. The area has long stretches of green farmland and the horizon seems to go on forever.
For Banks, the emotions ran high. He had spent 12 years in the Army Reserve and had flown in similar aircraft.
He had put away those emotions while fighting the flames but on Tuesday he shared them.
"Everyone is down," he said of his crew. "The high volume loss of life."
He spoke as he stood outside the makeshift command center at the Leflore County business and development center on U.S. 82.
Inside the center, soldiers, local police and other responders took a meal break, eating fried fish and fries off paper plates.
Lt. Jamaal Ellis of the Salvation Army stood nearby.
"We're providing food service and emotional support," Ellis said.
He estimTed that there were 200 responders here from federal, state and local agencies.
"You see the exhaustion and the grief," he said. "They're discouraged to see fellow warriors go down in this manner."
Marine Lt. Stephanie Leguizamon, a spokeswoman, said that officials are nearly complete in notifying the next of kin of the deceased. She said the bodies of 15 marines and one sailor were recovered.
She said the names of the deceased would be released 24 hours after all the families were notified.