The military plane that crashed Monday scattered debris across miles of rural farm land in Leflore County, Miss., creating a challenge for investigators who have been searching the site all week.
Two DeSoto County deputies are flying drones over the crash site, helping investigators comb through crops and trees along the countryside.
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“The military officers will walk shoulder-to-shoulder through the field,” Chief Deputy Macon Moore said. “Our drones are operating in front of them, scanning.”
Moore said the officers are looking through fields in Leflore County for plane parts and anything that was in the plane before it crashed.
He couldn’t talk specifically about what the deputies have found. He said one of their goals is to find personal items that belonged to the 16 victims, and return the belongings to family.
“If we can go down and retrieve one item that may belong to one of these [servicemen] that could be returned to their family - think about what that might mean to them,” Moore said.
Deputies AJ Rivera and Jonathan Bigham are flying the drones. They provided video to FOX13 showing an example of waist-high crops they’re searching through for debris.
The deputies aren’t permitted to show images they’ve captured of the crash site or debris or publicly discuss what they’ve seen.
The C-130 military plane crashed Monday afternoon on a soybean farm off of Highway 82 in Leflore County, killing 15 marines and a sailor.
David Habig, a pilot in Greenwood, told FOX13 he flew his crop duster over the crash site moments after the plane fell to the ground.
“When I saw bodies, that’s when I knew it was serious,” Habig said. “The flames were horrendous. The black smoke – you could barely see and make out it was an airplane.”
Habig said he didn’t take photos of the crash out of respect for the fallen officers and their families.
“Nobody’s trained to go see stuff like that,” Habig said, as he recalled the devastating images from memory.
Law enforcement officials have blocked access to the crash site since Monday evening, as investigators comb through fields of crops for evidence and debris.
“It's a very large area - a couple miles that they're working in,” Moore said. “They're able to take those drones and search the fields, because the vegetation could be waist or chest high.”
The DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department was given a grant recently, providing funding needed to pay for the drones and the officers who are trained to use them.
“Our officers that operate those drones are trained through Homeland Security,” Moore said. “When an event occurs like this, they often request assistance from agencies they provided equipment to.”
Investigators haven’t determined what caused the crash.
General Bradley James, a U.S. Marine spokesperson, said air traffic control lost contact with the plane Monday.
“Indications are that something went wrong at cruise altitude,” James said.
State officials warned the public not to touch debris from the plane. Items should be reported to the ATF by calling 1-800-ATF-GUNS.
Habig commended local law enforcement for quickly securing the crash site Monday, adding that he hopes family members of the victims find peace.
“I just hope the people will let those families grieve,” Habig said. “Pray for them. God will take care of everything else.”
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