Marine plane crash kills 7 in Pakistan

KC-130 hit mountain

no indication it was fired on, officials say

`It just breaks your heart'

Largest single loss of U.S. troops since Afghan war began

January 10, 2002|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A U.S. military refueling plane crashed into a mountainside in Pakistan yesterday, killing seven Marines, the Pentagon said last night.

The crash produced the largest loss of American military personnel in a single incident since the United States began bombing Afghanistan on Oct. 7.

Pentagon officials said the cause of the crash was not known. They said there was no indication that the four-engine KC-130 Hercules was fired upon as it approached a base near Shamsi, a town in southwest Pakistan near the Afghan border.

The crash occurred after nightfall (about 10:15 a.m. EST), and a search-and-rescue mission continued into the morning. The Pentagon identified the dead Marines shortly before midnight in Washington.

Witnesses reported seeing flames shooting from the plane before it slammed into the mountain. But one official said it appeared to be "a crash rather than a shoot-down."

One military officer said that as many as six passengers, in addition to the seven-member Marine crew, might have been on board. It was not clear who the passengers might have been.

A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, Maj. Randy Sandoz, said that Marines and Pakistanis had approached the crash site, but no bodies had been recovered as of late yesterday.

"We made it to the crash site on foot," Sandoz said. "But they were unable to remain there. It is a very steep grade and they were unable to get footing. The site is secure."

The Pentagon identified the seven Marines who were killed as: the pilot, Capt. Matthew W. Bancroft, 29, of Shasta, Calif.; co-pilot Capt. Daniel G. McCollum, 29, of Richland, S.C.; Gunnery Sgt. Stephen L. Bryson, 35, of Montgomery, Ala.; Staff Sgt. Scott N. Germosen, 37, of New York City; Sgt. Nathan P. Hays, 21, of Lincoln, Wash.; Lance Cpl. Bryan P. Bertrand, 23, of Coos Bay, Ore.; and Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters, 25, of Du Page, Ill.

All were based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Calif.

Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in Pakistan and the surrounding region, said the KC-130 took off from Jacobabad in southeastern Pakistan and was making multiple stops.

President Bush said the crash was a reminder of "how serious the times are today."

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the soldiers," he said. "But I want to remind them that the cause that we are now engaged in is just and noble. The cause is freedom, and this nation will not rest until we've achieved our objective."

In a brief exchange with reporters earlier yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he had little information about the crash. He did say that the plane was carrying passengers, in addition to the crew of seven Marines, but that he had no further details.

"I'm going to wait for the investigation to be completed," he said.

"It is a tough, dangerous business over there. They're doing difficult things, and they're doing them darned well, and it just breaks your heart," Rumsfeld said.

Saeed Malangzai, a journalist who lives about 40 miles from the crash site, told the Associated Press that the plane went down in mountains in southern Balochistan province.

"Residents saw flames from the burning plane before it crashed into the Lundi mountains," said Malangzai, who said that Pakistani troops encircled the area.

The 97-foot-long KC-130 is a $37 million plane that is routinely used by the Marine Corps for in-flight refueling of helicopters. It can carry up to 92 people or 38,258 pounds of cargo, as well as provide for evacuation missions and special operations support.

A KC-130 typically carries a six-member crew of two pilots, a navigator, flight engineer, mechanic and loadmaster, though defense officials said the plane that crashed carried a crew of seven.

The previous single-highest death toll of U.S. personnel in the war occurred when three Green Berets were killed by "friendly fire" outside Kandahar, Afghanistan, last month after a U.S. bomb fell too close to their position.

The only other fatal crash of a U.S. military aircraft during the war was that of an Army Black Hawk helicopter that crashed deep inside Pakistan on Oct. 19, killing two Army Rangers and injuring three others. Officials said that crash was an accident that occurred as the Army troops were trying to land.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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