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Incident Name:  White Draw Fire, Black Hills, SD
Date: July 1, 2012, 1830 hours, MDT
Personnel: 6 crew on the air tanker; 4 lives lost; 2 survivors, status unknown
Age: varies
Agency/Organization: the U. S. Air Force
Position: varies


Lost are:
Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, age 42, of Mooresville, NC; Lt. Colonel in the N.C. Air National Guard & Evaluator Pilot
Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, age 36, of Belmont, NC; Major/Instructor Pilot
Maj. Ryan S. David, age 35, of Boone NC, Major/Navigator
Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon, age 50, of Charlotte, NC; Senior Master Sergeant/Flight Engineer

Injured are:
Josh Marlowe, age 28, of Shelby, NC, condition upgraded from critical to serious
one other, name unknown...

At approximately 6 P.M. MDT, a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) equipped C-130 aircraft supporting fire fighting missions crashed in the southwest corner of South Dakota. The aircraft was supporting the efforts against the White Draw Fire. The cause of the crash is not known and the incident is under investigation. Four of the crew were killed and two are hospitalized, their condition unknown at this time.

MAFFS is a joint DoD and U.S. Forest Service program designed to provide additional aerial firefighting resources when commercial and private airtankers are no longer able to meet the needs of the Forest Service. The MAFFS operations (involving 7 more airtankers) were suspended following the crash. (from the US Northern Command brief 7/1 and brief 7/2; see reports documentation below)

A BLM ASM platform was also engaged as a lead with the C130 when the accident occurred. The ASM (Aerial Supervision Module)/Lead experienced a severe downdraft while approaching the intended retardant drop zone with the C130 in trail. This is being investigated by the USFS as a separate Incident With Potential. (from the Initial Accident & Notification Form, GACC: Region 2, 7/1/2012)

Photos: Paul Mikeal, Joe McCormick, Ryan David, Robert Cannon and examples of MAFFS equipped C-130 on the tarmac and in flight (photos courtesy North Carolina Air National Guard and the last one, the USFS)

Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal
Maj. Joseph M. McCormick Maj. Joseph M. McCormick
Maj. Ryan S. David Maj. Ryan S. David
Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon
MAFFS C-130 on the ground MAFFS C-130 on the ground
Example of a MAFFS C-130 dropping Example of a MAFFS C-130 dropping


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Location of the fire: The White Draw Fire is burning near Edgemont SD (location of the pin toward the bottom of the map, in the south). Other fires are burning on the Black Hills National Forest and to the west. The Crow Peak (SD-BKF) burns in the north Black Hills near Spearfish; the Dakota (SD-BKF) burns in the east, near Rapid City; the Oil Creek (WY-CPS) burns to the west in Wyoming. (near Edgemont, SD - USNG: 13T EJ 99 04)

White Draw Fire location White Draw Fire location

Location of the last reported lat/lon numbers that AFF received prior to the incident.

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

MAFFS 7 Memorial in Charlotte, NC; photo credit: Sgt Brian Christiansen

MAFFS 7 Memorial in NC MAFFS 7 Memorial in NC
Joint Military Color Guard Inspect Colors Joint Military Color Guard Inspect Colors

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Media Articles and Reports

  • Plane goes down fighting White Draw Fire

    July 01, 2012 7:50 PM PDT |

    A C-130 plane fighting the White Draw fire "went down" Sunday night, according to the Fall River Sheriff's Office. A helicopter was able to land near the plane and took three people to Custer to be transported by ambulance to Rapid City Regional Hospital for further medical treatment. "Our number one priority right now is taking care of the crew," Pat Cross, incident management spokesman, said Sunday. The aircraft disappeared from radar contact early Sunday evening. Emergency management personnel were scrambling to uncover the full details Sunday evening. (More at the link...)

  • Plane crashes fighting White Draw fire

    July 01, 2012 7:50 PM PDT |

    An airplane dropping water on the White Draw fire in Fall River County crashed Sunday night, a fire representative confirmed to KOTA. The details are still scarce, but public information officer Pat Cross said search and rescue teams were headed to the scene. Cross couldn't provide more specifics, but said their top priority is getting to the crew of the plane. When asked about when he thought they'd be able to get to the wreck, Cross said, "If I knew, I'd be real happy." (More at the link...)

  • Air Force Tanker Crashes Fighting Fire

    July 1, 2012 |

  • NC National Guard plane in deadly crash while fighting wildfires

    7/2/2012 7:57 AM PDT |

    Charlotte, NC - WBTV has learned the names of two members of the North Carolina National Guard who died when the C-130 tanker they were in crashed while battling a wildfire in South Dakota. According to family members, Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal and Master Sergeant Robert Cannon were killed when a C-130 Hercules belonging to the 145th Airlift Wing based out of Charlotte crashed on Sunday night. (More at the link...)

  • Family: Crew member dead in South Dakota plane crash

    7/2/2012 |

  • Casualties Reported In MAFFS Equipped C-130 Crash

    7/2/2012 |

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

    7/2/2012 |

  • C-130 Crashes Battling S.D. Wildfire

    7/3/2012 |

    The cause remains under investigation, but the U.S. Forest Service said an airplane flying ahead of the C-130 encountered a “severe downdraft” in the area where aircraft had been directed to drop retardant. The C-130 was equipped with a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, otherwise known as MAFFS, which is capable of dropping 3,000 gallons of water or retardant per second. (More at the link...)

  • SD Governor Daugaard confirms second death in C-130 crash

    7/3/2012 |

  • Military: 4 dead in C-130 crash, 2 survivors

    7/3/2012 |

    The dead are Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal, Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, Maj. Ryan S. David and Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon. All were from North Carolina. (More at the link...)

  • Human error, weather caused fatal South Dakota air tanker crash

    November 14, 2012 |

    A combination of human error and a severe "microburst" during a thunderstorm caused a military air tanker to crash while fighting a South Dakota wildfire in July, killing four airmen, according to an accident report released on Wednesday.

    The U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules crashed on July 1 while battling a blaze near Edgemont, South Dakota, killing four North Carolina Air National Guard airmen. Two others were seriously injured.

    An Air Force Air Mobility Command accident investigation report released on Wednesday found that an "inadequate assessment" by the cockpit crew of "operational conditions resulted in the aircraft flying into a microburst and impacting the ground."

    The report describes a microburst as a severe, localized wind gust, blasting down from a thunderstorm, typically covering an area less than 2.5 miles in diameter and lasting less than 5 minutes. More...

Joint Military Color Guard Salute Joint Military Color Guard Salute

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • NIFC will be hosting two dignitaries on the campus tomorrow, July 3, from 1330-1530. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be here for a short briefing to gain perspective on the current and expected wildland fire situation. NIFC Security will be putting up a couple of barriers on the main floor of the Jack Wilson Building from 1-3 pm Tuesday. These barriers are not meant to impede official NIFC business, but to keep news media visitors in the appropriate part of the building. The Secret Service has asked that non-essential foot traffic in the Jack Wilson be limited during the 1:00-3:30 pm time period.


  • President Barack Obama released a statement on July 2 afternoon about the crash.
    "Yesterday, a military C-130 from the North Carolina Air National Guard crashed while supporting firefighting efforts in South Dakota. The full details are still under investigation, but the crew of this flight – along with their families and loved ones – are in our thoughts and prayers."

    "The men and women battling these terrible fires across the West put their lives on the line every day for their fellow Americans," he continued. "The airmen who attack these fires from above repeatedly confront dangerous conditions in an effort to give firefighters on the ground a chance to contain these wildfires – to save homes, businesses, schools, and entire communities. They are heroes who deserve the appreciation of a grateful nation."

    "I know Americans across the country share my concern for the well-being of the surviving members of the crew and my deep condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. And I know that Americans join me in expressing my deepest gratitude for the selfless determination they and thousands of men and women involved in this fight in states across the country demonstrate every day."

  • North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue expressed her sympathies on July 2 and ordered all North Carolina state flags to be lowered to half-staff on all state facilities from sunrise to sunset on Tuesday, July 3, in tribute to the N.C. National Guard members who died.
    "I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the North Carolina National Guardsmen who lost their lives last night fighting wildfires in South Dakota, and our prayers are with those who were injured," she said.

    "This tragic loss underscores the risks and sacrifices our servicemen and women make on a daily basis. Whether home or abroad, they leave their families to keep us safe and protect our freedom, her statement continued. "Every North Carolinian should be proud of and humbled by these patriotic Americans' willingness to put themselves in harms way every day."

  • USFA Memorial Database:Paul K. Mikeal | Joseph M. McCormick | Ryan S. David | Robert S. Cannon
  • Slideshow: the 145th Airlift Wing Crew leaving for assignment

    June 30, 2012 |

2 MAFFS Training following leadplane in WY 2 MAFFS Training following leadplane in WY

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Contributors to this article: Mellie, Tom Janney, Sgt Brian Christiansen for his photographic journalism, and the Air National Guard.

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