Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Fatal crash grounds key part of firefighting fleet

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The deadly crash of a military cargo plane fighting a South Dakota wildfire forced officials to ground seven other Air Force air tankers, removing crucial firefighting aircraft from the skies during one of the busiest and most destructive wildfire seasons ever to hit the West.

The C-130 from an Air National Guard wing based in Charlotte, N.C., was carrying a crew of six and fighting a 6.5-square-mile blaze in the Black Hills of South Dakota when it crashed Sunday. The crash killed at least one crew member, Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville, N.C., according to his family.

President Barack Obama offered thoughts and prayers to the crew and members' families.

The military put the remaining seven C-130s on an "operational hold," keeping them on the ground indefinitely. That left 14 federally contracted heavy tankers in use until investigators gain a better understanding of what caused the crash.

Meanwhile, officials said the 27-square-mile Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs was 55 percent contained. The fire has killed two people and destroyed about 350 homes.

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