A U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 air-refueling aircraft carrying seven Marines crashed into a mountain yesterday while making an approach to land at a forward operating base in southwestern Pakistan, the military said.
There were no reports of survivors, Pentagon officials said, adding that darkness and the ruggedness of the terrain meant that the conditions of those aboard could not be determined immediately.
“We don’t know the disposition of the crew at this point,” said Navy Cmdr. Dan Keesee, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command.
An investigation was under way into the circumstances surrounding the crash, he said.
“It just breaks your heart,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters at a ceremony honoring retired Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“It is a tough and dangerous business over there. They are doing a dangerous job and they are doing it darn well,” he said.
Military officials were unable to say whether hostile fire played any role in the crash, which could be the worst air disaster of the 3-month-old war in Afghanistan.
In a separate incident yesterday, the right main landing gear of an S-3B Viking aircraft collapsed when it made an emergency landing on the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the Navy said. No deaths or injuries were reported.
The KC-130 was carrying a passenger and six crew members on a flight from Jacobabad, Pakistan, when it crashed near Shamsi, Pakistan, Cmdr. Keesee said.
Shamsi, a base whose use by U.S. forces had not been disclosed previously, was the last stop on a multistop trip.
“At approximately 10:15 a.m. EST today, a US KC-130 crashed into a mountain near Shamsi, Pakistan. Seven marines were aboard,” the command stated. “The aircraft was making its landing approach at the time of the crash. It’s final destination was the forward operating base in Shamsi.”
Marine Lt. Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the aircraft was a Marine Corps KC-130 aircraft, which can be used to refuel fighter aircraft or helicopters in the air or to carry cargo and troops.
A Pentagon official, who asked not to be identified, said the plane was believed to be on a supply mission at the time of the crash.
The KC-130 normally has a six-member crew made up of two pilots, a navigator, a flight engineer, a mechanic and a loadmaster.
The plane is the second fixed-wing aircraft to go down since the start of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan on Oct. 7.
A B-1 bomber crashed in the Indian Ocean on Dec. 12, but its crew bailed out and were rescued. Two crew members were injured.
At least four helicopters have crashed. Two persons were killed in the crash of a helicopter Oct. 9 in a sandstorm in Pakistan. The other helicopter crashes injured crew members but caused no deaths.
Pakistani military officials confirmed the crash, but said they were “not in a position” to give details, which instead would be released by U.S. authorities.