EDGEMONT, S.D. — A military plane carrying the North Carolina National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing crashed in South Dakota while fighting the wildfires on Sunday. Four of the six airmen on board were killed.
Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville, Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, 36, of Belmont, Maj. Ryan S. David, 35, of Boone and Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon, 50, of Charlotte were killed.
Mikeal was interviewed by NewsChannel 36 on Saturday just before the 145th Airlift Wing left to fight the wild fires in Colorado.
According to U.S. Northern Command, a C-130 equipped with a Modular Airborne Firefighting System crashed while fighting a fire in South Dakota. It's the first time a MAFFS C-130 has crashed, and the first time a C-130 has crashed while fighting a fire.
The two survivors were seriously hurt and have been taken to a hospital in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Josh Marlowe, 28, of Cherryville, was injured in the crash, according to family members. They told Newschannel 36 his condition is slightly improving and his wife is by his hospital bedside.
Cannon, a father of two, spent 29 years serving with the Charlotte unit as a flight engineer.
Mikeal leaves behind a wife, whom he met when both were students at UNCC.
McCormick was married with four kids, one of which is a newborn.
David left the Air Force and joined the guard as a navigator.
Brigadier General Tony McMillan struggled to finish when officially releasing the names during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“We continue to grieve, though ready for missions. We have four new wingman watching over us,” he said tearing up.
“They loved the guard but they loved their family and they were committed to both,” said Chaplain Debbie Kidd.
The 145th Airlift Wing is based out of Charlotte and left on Saturday to assist with the wildfire in Colorado.
"Yes sir, we are ready," Mikeal told NewsChannel 36 on Saturday before they left. "We’ve been prepared since May, we did our annual training in May, we are ready to go and help out as much as we can with the fires as soon as we get there."
The plane went down at about 6 p.m. Sunday near Edgemont, South Dakota. The crew of the C-130 was flown in to support firefighting missions in South Dakota.
The cause of the crash is not known and the incident is under investigation.
Capt. Ruth Castro, a spokeswoman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told The Associated Press that the tanker made at least two drops of fire retardant on the White Draw Fire on Sunday before crashing at about 6 p.m.
The aircraft and crew traveled from the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado to assist in efforts to contain the fire that was sparked Friday afternoon by a vehicle near Edgemont, 80 miles southwest of Rapid City. On Monday morning the 6 ½-square-mile blaze was about 30 percent contained, according to an inter-agency government website.
The C-130 can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, covering an area one-quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide, and can be refilled in less than 12 minutes, according to the Defense Department.
The C-130 units based outside of Colorado include the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153nd Airlift Wing, the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing and the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing.
"I know Americans across the country share my concern for the well-being of the surviving members of the crew and my deep condolences to the families of those who lost their lives," said President Barack Obama in a statement. "And I know that Americans join me in expressing my deepest gratitude for the selfless determination they and thousands of men and women involved in this fight in states across the country demonstrate every day."
As a result of Sunday's incident, the Air Force announced Monday afternoon it is grounding all fire fighting-equipped C-130s.
"The biggest challenge in Colorado I believe is going to be the terrain," Mikeal said Saturday. "The fact that it’s high altitude and getting down into it, that’s going to be the biggest challenge."
Click the National Guard YouTube video below to watch a C-130 fire fighting mission in action:
North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan released a statement Monday afternoon about the tragic plane crash:
"My heart goes out to the families of the crew members who died in this tragic crash. These airmen gave their lives fighting the devastating wildfires that are threatening the lives and homes of countless Americans; they define what it is to be a hero. My thoughts and prayers are also with the airmen who were injured during this crash. The bravery of these airmen will not be forgotten."
North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue ordered all state flags to belowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Tuesday.
“This tragic loss underscores the risks and sacrifices our servicemen and women make on a daily basis,” Governor Perdue said.