EDGEMONT, S.D. (KELO AM) – A memorial ceremony was held today to dedicate an interpretive site that honors the Airmen of the North Carolina Air National Guard (NCANG) C-130 aircraft that crashed one year ago today while fighting the White Draw Fire near Edgemont.
Four members of the six-person Modular Airborne Firefighting System 7 (MAFFS-7) aircrew died when strong winds out of a thunderstorm caused their air tanker to impact the ground on a ridge top northeast of Edgemont.
“We are honoring these six North Carolina Guardsmen for their heroism and we are dedicating this site so that people will remember them forever,” said South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, during the ceremony. “It is impossible for any words to pass my lips that can express our incredible gratitude for the sacrifices that these men have made…but they will always be remembered by this memorial.”
The MAFFS-7 C-130 aircraft that crashed was from the NCANG’s145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte- Douglas International Airport. Killed were Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville; Maj. Joseph McCormick, 36, of Belmont; Maj. Ryan David, 35, of Boone; and Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon, 50, of Charlotte. Two survived but were seriously injured — Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt of Lancaster and Sgt. Josh Marlowe of Shelby.
More than 100 family members, friends and colleagues were present for the ceremony and to see the unveiling of the interpretive signs. Located approximately seven miles north of Edgemont along Hwy 18, the interpretive site overlooks the ridge where the aircraft crashed while dropping fire retardant on the White Draw Fire.
“None of them took off that day to become heroes, in fact they would all tell us assuredly if they were here that they were simply answering a call to duty,” said Maj. Gen. Gregory Lusk, adjutant general of the N.C. National Guard. “They were simply doing the job they all love to do. As we pay tribute to the crew – by commemorating on the anniversary this site – we acknowledge that they join a very long line of Minutemen who have for over 376 years done exactly what they did; just answer the call of the neighbor in need, service to the community and service to our nation.”
“I recall that first approach by a large air tanker, the roar of the props and turbines above the treetops…time and again, I witnessed how well it helped ground firefighters,” Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien said of the MAFFS-7 aircrew. “Our purpose today probes deeper. We are peering into the tiny windows and inside the aircraft at the humans and focusing on the crew of MAFFS-7– protecting our freedom and protecting us from peril. They served with honor and we are here to honor them.”
The construction of the interpretive site and signs were a collaborative effort between the South Dakota National Guard and Black Hills National Forest officials. The interpretive site includes a parking area and signs that tell the story of the fire and the fatal accident.
“The unveiling of this marker here today will assure that these heroes will indeed live forever,” said Maj. Gen. Lusk. “To the families of these brave men, just know that we will always remember and acknowledge your sacrifices and your service, every step of the way. I hope from your perspective this dedication is indeed the legacies of your husbands, and that it is fair to say that the citizens of North Carolina and the citizens of South Dakota will forever share a kindred bond.”