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JACKSON, MS (CBSMiami) – Sixteen service members were killed when a military aircraft crashed in rural Mississippi.

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Witnesses say the Marine Corps refueling tanker was on fire as it spiraled towards the ground into a soybean field about 85 miles north of Jackson.

The plane, a KC-130 four engine turbo prop, was being tracked by air traffic controllers in nearby Memphis. At 20-thousand feet, it suffered a catastrophic failure and plunged out of the sky. Once it started to fall, the plane went radio silent.

“A crackling noise. It was all over, but it was loud,” said Ned Wells who was in the area when the plane went down. “It was scary and then I seen the black smoke. It was horrifying.”

All a Marine Corps spokesperson would say is that the plane “experienced a mishap”. The flames burned for hours, witnesses say was so hot, that at one point firefighters had to pull back.

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The bodies of those on board were found about a mile away from the main crash site. The local fire chief says debris from the crash is being found within a five-mile radius.

Leflore County police Sgt. Fred Randle says the area around the crash site is still unsafe.

“We don’t want nobody out there. You have fuel everywhere so we don’t want anybody without responders in the area,” he said.

The KC-130 can be used to refuel other planes in midair and often carries additional fuel as a result.

Investigators on the wreck said a section of the plane was partially intact, indicating that it was unlikey an explosion that brought it down.

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President Donald Trump expressed his condolences on Twitter Tuesday morning, calling the crash “heartbreaking”.