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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -
The bodies of four Airmen who were killed when their C-130 crashed during a wildfire fighting mission returned home to Charlotte on Wednesday.
The airmen belonged to the 145th Airlift Wing unit and were killed on July 1st when they crashed in South Dakota.
The bodies were flown to the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport from Dover Wednesday afternoon around 2:15 p.m. They were brought home on a special C-130 cargo transport.
The ceremony was only open to family members of the fallen Airmen and members of the 145th Airlift Wing.
The bodies of the Airmen returned just one day after a private memorial service was held in their honor.
"These are our brother's from our home state, it's just devastating to lose anybody, especially when they are such high ranking heroes," said John Whitt, a member of the Patriot Guard.
According to the National Guard, 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.
The four men were part of the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) 7 crew.
Funerals for the men will be held individually beginning on Friday. Their names were added to a National Guard memorial wall, which was unveiled during a memorial service for the men on Monday.
Sergeant Brian Christiansen, a photographer for the North Carolina Air and Army National Guard, tweeted a picture of the memorial on Monday afternoon.
Two other airmen were also injured when the C-130 Hercules crashed. A National Guard spokesperson says it is against policy for them to release the name of injured airmen.
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.
On Monday, Cannon's mother-in-law stopped by the air force base to see the outside fence decorated with flowers and posters.
"Our heart goes out to all of the families affected by this tragedy and the whole guard. It has affected everyone, " said Sandy Russ, Robert Cannon's mother-in-law.
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., to assist with fighting forest fires in the Rocky Mountain region.
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.
On Monday, the United States Air Force released photos of a deadly C-130 crash, showing the wreckage left behind.
The deadly 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.