FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- A large Air Force cargo plane skimming the ground in a weapons-delivery demonstration crashed yesterday, killing five servicemen and narrowly missing 5,000 civilian spectators in the bleachers.

Some witnesses said the pilot of the C130 Hercules appeared to be fighting to keep the plane from hurtling into the grandstand. It careened at 120 mph within 50 yards of the grandstand, crushed several jeeps, split apart and slammed into a stand of pine trees, erupting into flames.

One of the victims was a soldier watching the exercise on the ground, said Capt. Brian Irving at Pope Air Force Base, adjacent to Fort Bragg. Three of the plane's six crew members died in the crash. The other three were taken by helicopter to hospitals, where another died.

Military police blocked spectators who tried to run from the grandstand to the burning plane. The civilian spectators, some in tears, were bundled into buses and taken to another area where the annual military firepower exercise continued.

A spokesman said the C130 was delivering a Sheridan tank with the Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System, or LAPES. "The aircraft gets 5 to 10 feet off ground level, and the crew member releases the load at a given signal. The parachute pulls the load out the back of the aircraft," he said.