UPDATED: 6 crew members aboard crashed C-130, relatives say N.C. man died in crash

July 02, 2012 9:52 am  • 

1:25 p.m. update: While the Air Force has declined to report on the status of the crew, relatives of a Mooresville, N.C., man say he was killed in the crash.

Paul Mikeal, 42, a lieutenant colonel in the N.C. Air National Guard, died when the plane crashed about 10 p.m. (Eastern time) in southwest South Dakota, according to Mikeal’s mother-in-law, Gracie Partridge.

Rescuers took three survivors to a hospital in Rapid City, S.D., according to authorities in South Dakota. The C-130 typically carries a crew of six.

The 145th Airlift Wing is operating two firefighting C-130 aircraft at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, as part of the military’s effort to help the U.S. Forest Service battle wildfires that have burned thousands of acres and destroyed hundreds of homes in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota.

The names of the crew members were not released by the military, which said it is trying to contact families.

But Partridge, who said she is with her daughter, told The Observer, “They informed her about 2 or 2:30 this morning.”

She said the family couldn’t talk further.

1:20 p.m. update: The military C-130 aircraft activated to assist with the Rocky Mountain region’s firefighting efforts will not operate today.

The fleet will spend the day to get the MAFFS crews together to “reflect, reset and review,” said 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," he added.

Sunday's C-130 crash was the first in the 40-year history of the MAFFS program, a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Defense.

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. The agency will continue to allocate available firefighting assets according to the prioritization of incidents."

At this time it is not known when the MAFFS aircraft will resume operations.

Original story: A C-130 that crashed while fighting fires north of Hot Springs around 6 p.m. Sunday belonged to the North Carolina Air National Guard, based out of Charlotte, according to the Associated Press.

Lt. Col. Rose Dunlap of the 145th Airlift Wing in Charlotte confirmed today six crew members were aboard the C-130, but said she could not yet provide any information about their condition.

At an earlier briefing in Colorado, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jerri Marr said the agency's thoughts went out to the families of those lost in the crash of the C-130.

The plane had been dropping flame retardant on the 6-square-mile White Draw Fire. The cause of the crash is not known and the incident is under investigation.

Seven other firefighting C-130s are being held on the ground because of the crash.

Eight Air Force C-130s can be equipped to drop water or fire retardant. They're flown by Air Force National Guard units at Charlotte, Port Hueneme, Calif., and Cheyenne, Wyo., and a Reserve unit in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The other seven C-130s are being kept on the ground under an "operational hold," said Northern Command spokesman Michael Kucharek. In aviation terminology, an operational hold is technically different from grounding but the effect is the same.

It wasn't immediately clear when they would resume work or what impact their absence would have on firefighting across the West.

What is a C-130?

According to a recent press release from the U.S. Air Force, the C-130 has been used extensively around the Rocky Mountain region fighting massive fires recently.

The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) is a self-contained system, owned by the U.S. Forest Service, attached to the C-130. It is capable of dropping 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, covering a quarter mile area that is 100 feet wide. It can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.

The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for airdropping troops and equipment into hostile areas, according to an Air Force factsheet.

The first C-130 deliveries began in 1956.

The Associated Press and the Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.