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Search resumes for remains of U.S. military members

U.S. Air Force Hercules C-130
A file photo of the U.S. Air Force Hercules C-130 cargo plane, similar to the one that crashed in Puerto Rico, on Wednesday.  

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNN) -- More than 100 workers resumed efforts Thursday to recover the remains of 10 U.S. Air Force members believed killed when their cargo plane crashed Wednesday night in driving rain and heavy fog into jungle in Puerto Rico.

Although only 20 miles south of San Juan, the crash site takes more than an hour to reach from the nearest road. "It's very, very rough terrain," said Rafael Guzman, executive director of the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency.

The MC-130H cargo plane was en route to Naval Station Roosevelt Roads on Puerto Rico around 10 p.m. when it was lost to radar, Guzman said.

Rescue workers who arrived more than an hour later found most of the fuselage had landed in a deep ravine, he said. Some of the fuselage and the cargo were ablaze, but the flames were doused by steady downpours of rain.

By 2:30 a.m., rescuers had found only one body, but were confident no one aboard the plane had survived the impact. "The thing pretty much disintegrated," Guzman said.

Witnesses in the homes nearest the crash site -- about an hour's walk -- said they saw the plane flying lower than planes typically fly over the mountain, Guzman said. "They say they saw it hit some trees as it went down."

He predicted the thick, tropical undergrowth would delay recovery efforts, and that all the bodies would not be removed before nightfall.

The plane was performing a low-level training exercise as part of a counter-drug training mission when it was reported missing, said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Virgil Layne.

The aircraft is based out of the 16th Special Operations Wing from Hurlburt Field in Florida but was on temporary duty at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico, Layne said.

The service members aboard included seven U.S. Air Force crew members and three U.S. Special Operations forces, Layne said.

The MC-130H Combat Talon II features terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radars capable of operations as low as 250 feet in adverse weather conditions, according to the U.S. Air Force's Web site.

The primary function of the $155 million aircraft is to transport Special Operations forces to and from hostile areas.




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