MAFFS 7 C-130 Airmen crash North Carolina Air National Guard - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Report: C-130 crew hit strong winds before deadly crash

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

A new report from the Air Mobility Command is giving more insight into the deadly crash of a C-130 in July that killed four North Carolina National Guard Airmen.

According to the report, the MAFFS 7 C-130 cockpit crew's "inadequate assessment of operational conditions resulted in the aircraft flying into a microburst and impacting the ground."

The report describes a microburst as a severe, localized wind gust, blasting down from a thunderstorm, typically covering an area less than 2.5 miles in diameter and lasting less than 5 minutes.

The investigation also determined factors that substantially contributed to the mishap included the failure of the Lead Plane and Air Attack aircrews to communicate critical operational information; as well as conflicting operational guidance concerning thunderstorm avoidance. 

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 said the tanker made at least two drops of fire retardant material on the fire before crashing.

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, died 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.

Funerals for the men will be held individually in mid-Julu. Their names were added to a National Guard memorial wall, which was unveiled during a memorial service for the men a week after the crash.

The other Airmen, whose names were not released, were injured in the crash.

The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS 7)-equipped C-130 Hercules crashed July 1 flying in support of a fire-fighting operation in South Dakota.

Officials with the North Carolina Air National Guard (NCANG) say they will study the Accident Investigation Board findings carefully to do all it can to ensure future tragedies do not happen. 

North Carolina's Airmen share the sentiments of Air National Guard director Lt. Gen. Harry W. Wyatt, III, that the Guard's first priorities are the safety of its aircrews and the American public.

"NCANG continues to grieve with the families of its fallen Airmen and continues to help them and all of its members deal with the loss," a release on Wednesday afternoon stated.

The aircraft was assigned to and flown by members of the 145th Airlift Wing, Air National Guard, out of Charlotte, N.C. and was flying out of Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., at the time of the incident.      

The unit retired the aircraft's U.S. Air Force tail number and the MAFFS 7 designator during a memorial ceremony held July 10 on base.

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.

Sky 3 pilot and Naval veteran Thomas Hopkins says weather is always the big question mark on every mission.

"You try to plan for it as much as you can," Hopkins said. "But you just never know what the conditions will change to when your airborne, especially in high pressure, low visibility situations."

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