A U.S. military plane carrying at least seven Marines crashed into a mountain in Pakistan today. A search-and-rescue mission was launched but there was no word on casualties.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he understood the plane was carrying passengers.
In a brief statement, U.S. Central Command said the names of the service members were being withheld until their relatives had been informed of the crash.
Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in Pakistan and the surrounding region, said the KC-130 aircraft crashed as it was making its landing approach at a base in Shamsi in southwestern Pakistan.
The plane’s flight originated in Jacobabad, Pakistan, and was making multiple stops, Central Command said.
At the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld said he was saddened by the accident but did not know the circumstances of the crash or whether the KC-130 was on a refueling mission.
“I’m going to wait for the investigation to be completed,” he said. “We’ve got some folks heading up there now.
“It is a tough, dangerous business over there,” he added. “They’re doing difficult things and they’re doing them darned well, and it just breaks your heart.”
Mr. Rumsfeld said he did not know how many people were on board but he understood that there were passengers in addition to the crew.
A journalist, Saeed Malangzai, who lives about 40 miles from the crash site, told The Associated Press that the plane went down in the Lundi mountains in southern Balochistan province.
“Residents saw flames from the burning plane before it crashed into the Lundi mountains,” Mr. Malangzai said.
Pakistani troops encircled the area, he said.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush was notified of the crash.
A Central Command spokesman, Maj. Brad Lowell, said there was no immediate indication of whether there were survivors.
The KC-130 is a $37 million plane routinely used by the Marine Corps for in-flight refueling of helicopters. It is also used for troop and cargo delivery, evacuation missions and special operations support. It carries a six-man crew of two pilots, a navigator, flight engineer, mechanic and loadmaster.
The only other fatal crash of a U.S. military aircraft during the war in Afghanistan, which began Oct. 7, was an Army Black Hawk helicopter that crashed in Pakistan on Oct. 19, killing two Army Rangers.