WASHINGTON — The deaths of 16 Marines in a cargo plane crash in Mississippi on Monday underscores the hazards of military training.
The dead included 15 Marines and one Navy corpsman, the Marine Corps announced Tuesday. They were flying cross country to California, delivering troops and equipment, when the crash occurred.
Each of the services conduct training missions that simulate combat conditions, including the use of live ammunition, night training and low-altitude flying. Each of them has accidents, though not always as tragic as the crash in Mississippi.
Among the recent deadly accidents outside war zones:
• Last June, nine soldiers drown at Fort Hood, Texas, when flood waters swallowed their truck on a training mission
• Last January, 12 Marines perished when their helicopters collided off the cost of Hawaii.
• In June, seven sailors died on a routine mission when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship off coast of Japan.
Military training requires risks to prepare troops for combat, said John Pike, executive director of GlobalSecurity.org. Military training flights can be particularly dangerous because they often require low-altitude flying, sharpening pilots’ skills to avoid detection by the enemy.
Low-altitude flight, or flying in close formation at night, also leaves little margin for error, he said.
“They cannot place the same premium on safety that civilian aviation does because they have to kill the enemy,” Pike said. “As they say, you fight like you train, so you train like you fight. When you get into combat, it’s too confusing to improvise. You must rely on your training.”
The Marine Corps Reserve KC-130 cargo plane crashed Monday about 4 p.m. local time in LeFlore County, Miss. It took off from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., according to the Marine Corps. Federal Aviation Administration officials contacted the Marines after the four-engine propeller plane disappeared from radar, Marine Corps Maj. Clark Carpenter said in a statement.
C-130s are used as cargo planes, gunships, and refueling tankers, said Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant. He called the aircraft one of most versatile and safe in military history.
The plane was carrying the troops and small arms ammunition and personal weapons. An explosive ordnance disposal team is at the crash scene, according to the Marine Corps.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. The names of the troops aboard the plane are being withheld pending notification of relatives.
President Trump on Tuesday expressed his condolences on Twitter saying: "Marine Plane crash in Mississippi is heartbreaking. Melania and I send our deepest condolences to all!"
In the case of the crash of the two Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters near Hawaii, the Marine Corps determined that pilot error was the primary cause of the crash. In addition to other "human factors," darkness contributed to the accident.