Charlotte, N.C. — Four members of the North Carolina Air National Guard were killed when their firefighting plane crashed Sunday night while battling a wildfire in South Dakota, officials said Tuesday.
The Charlotte-based 145th Airlift Wing deployed three C-130 Hercules planes and about three dozen guardsmen to Colorado on Saturday to help with wildfire control efforts.
One of the planes crashed in the southwest corner of South Dakota while spraying fire retardant on the White Draw Fire in the Black Hills region of the state.
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 in the crash.
Two other crew members were seriously injured, but the National Guard declined to identify them.
"Words can't express how much we feel the loss of these Airmen," said Brig. Gen. Tony McMillan, commander of the 145th Airlift Wing. "Our prayers are with their families, as well as our injured brothers as they recover."
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a spokesman for the National Guard, said the crash marked the first time a firefighting plane had crashed in the 40 years C-130s have been outfitted to assist with battling wildfires.
Carver said the other two C-130s from the 145th Airlift Wing are returning to North Carolina, but he couldn't say when they would be back.
Immediately after the crash, officials grounded those planes and six others from the Wyoming Air National Guard, the California Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing based in Colorado. The planes were allowed to resume aerial firefighting operations on Tuesday.
Mikeal was assigned to the 156th Airlift Squadron as an evaluator pilot and had more than 20 years of service. He is survived by a wife and two children. McCormick was an instructor pilot and chief of training for the squadron. He is survived by a wife and four children.
David was an experienced navigator and was also assigned to the squadron after serving in the Air Force. He is survived by a wife and one child. Cannon had more than 29 years with the Charlotte unit and was a flight engineer with the 145th Operations Support Flight. He is survived by a wife and two children.
Gov. Beverly Perdue ordered all state flags to be lowered to half-staff until sunset Tuesday in honor of the C-130 crew.