CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One year to the week after a plane crash killed four members of their unit, members of North Carolina’s Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing are flying west again to fight wildfires.
Three C-130 cargo planes and 30 crew members left Sunday morning from Charlotte Douglas Airport to Mesa, Arizona near Phoenix. On July 1, 2012, a C130 from the same unit crashed in western South Dakota, killing four crew members:
• Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville, N.C.;
• Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, 36, of Belmont, N.C.;
• Maj. Ryan S. David, 35, of Boone, N.C.; and
• Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon, 50, of Charlotte.
Two more crew members survived but were seriously injured.
Sunday’s mission will not be the first time the 145th has returned to fight fires since the fatal flight.
“We’ve done annual training. We’re ready,” said Lt. Col. Rose Dunlap. “Certainly our guys would want us to get back in. We’re ready to do that.”
C-130’s have already begun flying into Arizona as the focus of firefighting shifts from Colorado southward.
In the back of the planes are large machines known by their acronym: MAFFS – short for Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System. The MAFFS pump bright red fire retardant in a long stream as fast as 3,000 gallons per minute. Then the planes can circle back for another load. Like a NASCAR pit crew racing the clock, the ground crew can reload the tanks in twelve minutes.
Because the planes fly low and heavy over rough terrain, the work can be dangerous. The four guardsmen died when a sudden, powerful wind gust forced them to crash.
But before the summer was out, members of the same unit went back to fight more fires. Now they’re off again – this time to Arizona.