CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The North Carolina National Guard has released the names of all four airmen who were killed when the C-130 tanker they were in crashed while battling a wildfire in South Dakota.
According to a National Guard spokesperson, 42-year-old Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal of Mooresville, 50-year-old Senior Master Sergeant Robert Cannon of Charlotte, 36-year-old Major Joseph McCormick of Belmont and 35-year-old Major Ryan S. David of Boone were all killed in the crash.
- Lieutenant Colonel Mikeal was assigned to the 156th Airlift Squadron as an evaluator pilot and had more than 20 years of service. He leaves behind a wife and two children.
- Major McCormick was an instructor pilot and chief of training for the 156th Airlift Squadron. He was married with four children.
- Major David was an experienced navigator and was also assigned to the 156th. He joined the North Carolina Air National Guard in 2011 after prior service in the active-duty U.S. Air Force. He is survived by his wife and one child.
- Senior Master Sergeant Cannon had more than 29 years with the Charlotte unit and was a flight engineer with the 145th Operations Support Flight. He was married with two children.
WBTV has learned that all four will be added to the North Carolina Air National Guard Memorial in October.
Two other airmen were also injured when a C-130 Hercules belonging to the 145th Airlift Wing based out of Charlotte crashed on Sunday night. The spokesperson says it is against policy for them to release the name of injured airmen.
Three planes went on the mission. One came back just before 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night.
"Words can't express how much we feel the loss of these Airmen," said Brig. Gen. Tony McMillan, 145 AW Commander. "Our prayers are with their families, as well as our injured brothers as they recover."
The crew and its aircraft along with two other 145th C-130s and three dozen airmen flew from Charlotte to Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., Saturday to assist with fighting forest fires in the Rocky Mountain region.
They were due to move to a base in Cheyenne, Wyo., on Monday.
The crash occurred around 6:30 p.m. mountain time near Edgemont, S.D., as the crew assisted with battling what is being called the White Draw fire. Military spokeswoman Capt. Ruth Castro tells The Associated Press that the tanker made at least two drops of fire retardant material on the fire before crashing.
"I'm afraid I have some disappointing news, some bad news today," said Lieutenant Colonel Robert Carver during a news conference on Monday afternoon. "The North Carolina Air National Guard and indeed the North Carolina National Guard and the Guard across the country are grieving today."
Lt. Col. Carver told WBTV that the C-130 crashed around 6:30 p.m. Sunday night during a flight.
"There were causalities. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who lost their lives and to those of who were injured and especially to the family members of these Airmen - they are paramount on our minds."
The family of Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal of Mooresville confirmed they were notified early Monday that he had died in the C-130 crash on Sunday. The 42-year-old married father of two was a veteran of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the unit prepared to leave on Monday, Lt. Col. Mikeal told WBTV that he was the pilot for the MAFF 7 C-130 plane.
Master Sgt. Robert Cannon's wife also confirmed to WBTV that he had died in the crash.
Lt. Col. Carver says there were six members of the 145th Airlift Wing in Charlotte aboard the C-130 when it crashed.
The Fall River County Sheriff's Office told the Rapid City Journal that a helicopter was able to land near the plane Sunday night and take three people to Custer to be transported by ambulance to a Rapid City hospital.
President Barack Obama released a statement on Monday afternoon about the crash.
"Yesterday, a military C-130 from the North Carolina Air National Guard crashed while supporting firefighting efforts in South Dakota. The full details are still under investigation, but the crew of this flight – along with their families and loved ones – are in our thoughts and prayers."
"The men and women battling these terrible fires across the West put their lives on the line every day for their fellow Americans," he continued. "The airmen who attack these fires from above repeatedly confront dangerous conditions in an effort to give firefighters on the ground a chance to contain these wildfires – to save homes, businesses, schools, and entire communities. They are heroes who deserve the appreciation of a grateful nation."
"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. 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."
On Monday, WBTV spoke to the family members of Joshua Marlowe, who was injured in the crash.
According to his family, the 28-year-old was called on Friday and told to prepare for a mission to Colorado. The crew was reportedly excited about the mission.
This was the Marlowe's first fire run in the United States, but he had trained with several firefighting missions during tours to Afghanistan, his family said.
Family members received a call around 2:30 a.m. Monday morning, informing them of the crash. While WBTV was talking to the family, they learned that the 28-year-old father of three was upgraded from critical.
North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue also expressed her condolences on Monday.
"I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the North Carolina National Guardsmen who lost their lives last night fighting wildfires in South Dakota, and our prayers are with those who were injured," she said.
"This tragic loss underscores the risks and sacrifices our servicemen and women make on a daily basis. Whether home or abroad, they leave their families to keep us safe and protect our freedom, her statement continued. "Every North Carolinian should be proud of and humbled by these patriotic Americans' willingness to put themselves in harms way every day."
Gov. Perdue ordered all North Carolina state flags to be lowered to half-staff on all state facilities from sunrise to sunset on Tuesday, July 3, in tribute to the N.C. National Guard members who died. Citizens and local governments are encouraged to fly flags at half-staff as well.
The mayors of Charlotte and Concord also ordered flags lowered Tuesday to honored the fallen Guardsmen.
"On behalf of the City of Charlotte, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the Airmen who lost their lives Sunday night in South Dakota, and wish the Airmen who were injured a full and speedy recovery," Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx said.
He requested all flags at City municipal buildings and grounds be lowered to half-staff to honor the members.
"Their sacrifice is a powerful reminder of the selflessness with which our military men and women serve us each and every day, and today all of Charlotte honors the service of these courageous Airmen," Foxx said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire North Carolina Air National Guard 145th Airlift Wing during this difficult time."
Concord mayor Scott Padgett ordered all North Carolina flags at City of Concord facilities to be flown at half staff in memorial.
"It is always troubling to hear of a U.S. service member losing their life, but this case is especially heart wrenching and hits very close to home," said Padgett. "There are surely many members of our community who are personally grieving the loss of loved ones. We thank the members of the 145th Airlift Wing and all others who serve our country, and take incredible risks for others even in peacetime missions."
The 145th Airlift Wing includes many City of Concord residents, and Council Member John Sweat recently retired from service in the unit. Flags will remain at half-staff until further notice.
U.S. Senator Richard Burr also released a statement about the crash.
"I was terribly saddened to learn of the C-130 plane crash in South Dakota belonging to North Carolina Air National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing," Senator Burr stated.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims who died in the crash and to those who are still fighting for their lives."
The fire started by a vehicle Friday afternoon near Edgemont has grown to 4,200 acres and is about 30 percent contained.
The cause of the crash is unknown and is under investigation.
The U.S. Air Force allowed all C-130s equipped to fight wildfires to resume flight operations on Tuesday afternoon.
Sunday's crash was the first in the 40-year history of the MAFFS program, a joint Defense Department and U.S. Forest Service program that provides additional aerial firefighting resources when commercial and private air tankers are no longer able to meet the Forest Service's needs.
MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system owned by the Forest Service that can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, covering an area a quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide.
The MAFFS-equipped fleet is spending today getting the crews together to "reflect, reset and review," said Air Force Col. Jerry Champlin, 153rd Air Expeditionary Group commander. "We all need to make sure our crews and planes will be ready to re-engage in the mission safely."
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the agency is deeply saddened by this tragic incident.
"The agency fully supports the decision by the military to stand down its MAFFS operation to address the needs of personnel and families and ensure the safety of the mission when it resumes," he said. "The agency will continue to allocate available firefighting assets according to the prioritization of incidents."