Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

WALDO CANYON FIRE: C-130 firefighting planes grounded after fatal crash

Staff reports Updated: July 2, 2012 at 12:00 am

The remaining fleet of seven cargo planes used to drop slurry and water on wildfires, including C-130s from Peterson Air Force Base, have been grounded in the wake of a crash Sunday in South Dakota that reportedly killed at least one of the crew and sent at least three others to the hospital.

The Charlotte Observer is reporting that the crash killed Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, 42, a pilot in the North Carolina Air National Guard. The newspaper said the Mooresville, N.C., man's death was confirmed by family, quoting his mother-in-law, Gracie Partridge.

The Air Force has not released information on the status of the crew.

The downed C-130 was one of two from the 145th Airlift Wing in Charlotte that had joined the battle against wildfires in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota. The Charlotte-based planes had flown Saturdya to Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

A spokesman for the 145th Airlift Wing said its aircraft were scheduled to move Monday to a base in Wyoming, so they could be closer to the scene of the fire, the Observer reported.

Military officials say the plane crashed after dropping fire retardant Sunday in the Black Hills.

South Dakota officials tell the Rapid City Journal (http://tinyurl.com/86dpvvc) three crew members were taken to a hospital. Military officials won't comment.

Eight C-130s can be equipped to drop water or fire retardant. In addition to the Charlotte unit, they're flown by National Guard and Reserve units in Colorado, California and Wyoming.

The C-130 was working to slow the White Draw fire in southwestern South Dakota, she said. The Associated Press reported that the tanker made at least two drops of fire retardant material on the White Draw fire on Sunday before crashing at about 6 p.m.

The C-130 units based outside of Colorado include the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153nd Airlift Wing, the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing and the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing.

The Defense Department's entire fleet of C-130 aircraft was mobilized and sent to Peterson Air Force Base last week after fires erupted across the western United States. It was the first time since 2008 that all eight planes were placed into service at the same time, according to the Air Force.

U.S. Northern Command said Monday the remaining planes in the fleet were put on "operational hold" as a "prudent measure."

The C-130s can drop up to 3,000 gallons of retardant at a time, leaving a trail of slurry spanning a quarter-mile by 100 feet. The planes fly low and slow for each drop, descending to about 150 feet above the ground while spraying the thick orange mist.

Each plane typically boasts a crew of six.

There are 10 such crews - totalling 60 airmen - trained to fly firefighting missions with the 302nd Airlift Wing.

Stay with gazette.com for more information as it becomes available.

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