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Military plane crashes while battling South Dakota wildfire

Staff Sgt. Stephany Richards / USAF via Reuters

There are eight so-called Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) planes in the U.S. One of them crashed in South Dakota on Sunday.

Updated at 5:41 p.m. ET: An Air Force C-130 tanker crashed while battling a wildfire in southwest South Dakota, killing at least one of the six crewmembers aboard and forcing officials to ground seven other such aicraft.

The cause of the Sunday evening crash of the aircraft from the North Carolina Air National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing has not been determined, and the U.S. Northern Command released few details about the crash.

"There were casualties, and our thoughts and prayers go out to those who were injured and those who lost their lives," the U.S. Northern Command said in a statement, without saying how many crew members were killed or injured.


Relatives of a North Carolina man said he was killed in the crash. Gracie Partridge told the Charlotte Observer the Air Force confirmed that her son-in-law, Lt. Col.  Paul Mikeal, 42, died. 

A helicopter landed near the crash site and took three crewmembers to Custer to be transported by ambulance to Rapid City Regional Hospital for treatment, The Rapid City Journal reported.

 

"The cause of the crash has not been determined, and the incident is under investigation," a military statement added. 

The aircraft went down at around 6 p.m. local time (8 p.m. ET), the military said.  At the time, the crew was fighting the White Draw Fire near the town of Edgemont, S.D.

"Our number one priority right now is taking care of the crew," said Pat Cross, a spokesman handling information for the White Draw fire, according to NBC station KNBN.

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The worst fire season in recent history is taking its toll with large fires burning thousands of acres in Colorado while others consume areas in Montana, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.

 

Seven other firefighting C-130s are being held on the ground because of the crash, which comes as states in the West are grappling with one of the busiest and most destructive wildfire seasons ever.

The C-130 that went down is a military plane refashioned to fight fires. It is one of eight so-called Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) planes in the country. 

Bringing together the Department of Defense and U.S. Forest Service program, MAFFS aircraft provide additional aerial firefighting resources when commercial and private airtankers are no longer able to meet the needs of the Forest Service.

Residents tour Colorado blaze devastation

The plane disappeared from radar contact earlier on Sunday, Dakota Fire information spokeswoman Julie Molzahn told the Journal. 

Residents, forced to evacuate their homes in path of the Waldo Canyon blaze in Colorado Springs, return to find only burned-out remains of their communities. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.

Around 180 people were fighting the fire, which had spread to 4,200 acres and was 30 percent contained, the newspaper added. Workers are battling the blaze with the help of four helicopters and three air tankers, it reported.

Firefighters are facing additional hazards including steep terrain and rattlesnakes, officials told KNBN. 

Msnbc.com's F. Brinley Bruton and NBC station KNBN contributed to this report.

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