Memorial project needs boost
Published: Thursday, March 21st, 2013
Two weeks ago we reported on a project to commemorate and memorialize the crash of a C-130 Air National Guard aircraft last July 1 and the loss of four of the six crew members on board. The plane was based in North Carolina and was carrying a U.S. Forest Service-owned Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) in its belly. It was called in to fight the White Draw Fire northeast of Edgemont that ended up burning 9,000 acres.
The late afternoon crash that day reportedly was the result of a severe downdraft in the area that caused the low-flying aircraft to crash. Killed were pilot Lt.Col. Paul K. Mikeal, Mooresville, N.C.; pilot Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, Belmont, N.C.; navigator Maj. Ryan S. David, Boone, N.C.; and flight engineer Senior MSgt. Robert S. Cannon, Charlotte, N.C. Sgt. Josh Marlowe, Shelby, N.C., was flown to Rapid City Regional Hospital with unspecified injuries and a second surviving crew member, yet unnamed, was flown to the Jaycee Burn Center Memorial Hospital at Chapel Hill, N.C.
All four crew members who perished in the crash were married with children and were characterized as family men and loyal friends. They had flown out of Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs that day, never to return to their home base and families in North Carolina.
In our July 11, 2012 edition of this newspaper we wrote about the need to memorialize the N.C. Air National Guard crew with some kind of roadside sign or monument as near as possible to the crash site which occurred in rugged country nearly three miles to the west of Highway 18. Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien of Custer picked up on the idea and threw his support behind it. The S.D. Army National Guard also became involved.
The result was the meeting about two weeks ago of S.D. National Guard and local Forest Service officials at the proposed site of the memorial which is just to the west of where the fire started from a burning motor home on the east side of the highway. In fact, the blackened road surface can still be seen on the highway where the motor home burned. From the approximate 75-foot by 100-foot pull-out site, the area of the crash can be seen about three miles to the west.
Plans are to have the Hell Canyon District Forest Service office in Custer make two signs, one commemorating the crew members involved in the tragic crash, and the other an informational sign about the White Draw Fire. There will be room for at least six vehicles to park at the site which will be clearly marked on the highway to approaching traffic from the north and south.
Engineer units from the S.D. Army National Guard will level the site, move the existing fence further to the west and gravel the parking area which is on Forest Service land. Work on the project is to begin May 13 and be completed by July 1.
District Ranger Lyn Kolund said $2,500 is needed to pay for sign and fencing materials at the site. Neither his office nor that of the National Guard is authorized to be a collection point for these funds. A “White Draw Memorial Project” fund has been established at First Interstate Bank in Custer to pay for the necessary materials.
We urge everyone to consider donating what they can to this most worthy cause. Active military, ex-military, retired military, along with firefighters from area departments are urged to participate and give what they can. This air crew came a long way to help us in our time of need and four of them gave their lives in the firefighting efforts. Two were injured. A “thank you” hardly seems sufficient.
We owe it to them to commemorate and memorialize this incident as a constant reminder of the ever-present danger in fighting wildfires in this country and the dedication and sacrifice that is required of all fire fighters.
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