Five C-130s were back in the air fighting wildfires in several western states on Tuesday after being briefly grounded following a fatal crash over the weekend. Four crew members were killed and two were seriously injured on Sunday at about 6:30 p.m. local time when a C-130 from the North Carolina Air National Guard crashed while fighting fires in the Black Hills of South Dakota. "Operational flying was suspended for one day to review flying and safety procedures, in the context of what is known so far about the crash," according to a statement from the Northern Command, which oversees the airplanes while they are on firefighting duty. The cause of the crash is under investigation and no details have been released.
The airmen all were based in North Carolina. "Words can't express how much we feel the loss of these airmen," said Brig. Gen. Tony McMillan, commander of the wing. "Our prayers are with their families, as well as our injured brothers as they recover." Sunday's crash was the first in the 40-year history of the MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems) program, which is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Defense. A series of crashes involving air tankers, including a C-130, operated by various entities, prompted the NTSB in 2004 to call for closer scrutiny of aging aircraft used in firefighting operations. The MAFFS-equipped aircraft are able to discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than 5 seconds, covering an area 100 feet wide and a quarter-mile long.