The C-5 Galaxy, the military's largest plane at more than six stories high and 247 feet long, crashed just short of the runway and broke in two behind the cockpit. The tail assembly landed several hundred yards away, and an engine was thrown forward by the impact, but there was no evidence of fire.
"It looks like it kind of slid along the ground almost like a water landing of sorts," said Lt. Col. Mark Ruse, Commander of the 436th Air Wing Civil Engineering squadron at Dover.
Fourteen of the injured were taken to a Dover hospital. They were covered with jet fuel and had to be decontaminated in the parking lot, but none of their injuries were life threatening, Kent General Hospital officials said. Three others were taken to Christiana Care in Newark, Del., said hospital spokeswoman Sharon Justice.
"It's absolutely a miracle" that the injuries were not more serious, Ruse said.
The C-5 was being flown by a reserve crew from the 512th Airlift Wing, said Capt. John Sheets of the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
All flights from the base were suspended as emergency crews, some in hazardous materials suits, combed through the wreckage in a light rain under overcast skies.
Some sprayed foam on the left wing, which had lost its engine, while others removed the remaining fuel from the plane.
The military won't comment on what kind of problem forced the pilots to try to land and there's no word on what type of cargo the plane was carrying, CBS News correspondent Claudia Coffey. reports.
Lisa Barrentine, who lives near the crash site and often hears military planes flying over her property, said she knew something was wrong when she heard the C-5 overhead around 6:30 a.m.
"It wasn't quite the rumble you normally hear, it was larger, and you could hear the windows shaking," she said.
Tech Sgt. Melissa Phillips, a base spokeswoman, said a board of officers will investigate the cause of the crash.
The fact that the pilots survived will give investigators a great chance to "solve the crash," reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr. The pilots will be able to outline whatever mechanical or structural failures they encountered and they'll be able to explain what they did to compensate. All of that information, after analysis, should provide a plausible crash scenario.
Dover is home to the largest and busiest air freight terminal in the Defense Department, including the mortuary that processes bodies from the nation's wars.
The C-5 Galaxy cargo plane, made by Lockheed Martin Corp., is one of the largest aircraft in the world, according to the Air Force. Even with a payload of 263,200 pounds, it can fly non-stop for 2,500 miles at jet speeds.