Lancaster soldier honored at site of South Dakota fire

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By The Staff

A Lancaster resident was among those honored in South Dakota on Monday, July 1, during a ceremony to dedicate a memorial site for six N.C. Air National Guardsmen whose C-130 airplane crashed while fighting the White Draw Fire.

Four members of a six-man airborne firefighting crew from Charlotte’s N.C. Air National Guard 145th Airlift Wing died July 1, 2012, when strong winds from a thunderstorm caused their air tanker to crash on a ridge top northeast of Edgemont, S.D.

Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt of Lancaster, one of two survivors of the crash, attended the ceremony to dedicate an interpretive site overlooking the ridge where the aircraft crashed, a press release from the South Dakota National Guard said.

South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels spoke during the ceremony.

“We are honoring these six North Carolina Guardsmen for their heroism and we are dedicating this site so that people will remember them forever,” Michels said.

“It is impossible for any words to pass my lips that can express our incredible gratitude for the sacrifices that these men have made ... but they will always be remembered by this memorial,” he said.

According to the release, the site includes two signs – one of which tells the story of the 9,000-acre White Draw Fire; the other the story of the accident.

Killed in the crash, which made national news, were: Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville, N.C.; Maj. Joseph McCormick, 36, of Belmont, N.C.; Maj. Ryan David, 35, of Boone, N.C.; and Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon, 50, of Charlotte.

Huneycutt and the other survivor, Sgt. Josh Marlowe of Shelby, N.C., were in the back of the airplane as it spread fire retardant on the fire. Both were seriously injured.

The Lancaster News was unable to reach Huneycutt by press time Wednesday.

According to an article in the Custer County (S.D.) Chronicle, Huneycutt, despite being dazed from the crash, was able to call 911.

The article said during the ceremony, Huneycutt got a chance to meet the 911 dispatcher he spoke with that day, Becky Sotherland, who sent a helicopter to save him and Marlowe.

Huneycutt, the newspaper said, attended the ceremony with his brother, Col. Newt Huneycutt and Col. Huneycutt’s sons, Jeremy and Jesse, all of whom are also members of the 145th Airlift Wing.

After serving multiple missions with members of the crew, Huneycutt told the newspaper it was important for him to attend the ceremony because, “this is where my friends died.”

During his speech to the crowd gathered for the ceremony, N.C. National Guard Adjutant Maj. Gen. Gregory Lusk said none of the airmen would call themselves heroes in fighting the fire, but would say they were just doing their duty.

That didn’t prevent Lusk from referring to them as such.

“The unveiling of this marker here today will assure that these heroes will indeed live forever,” Lusk said. 

“To the families of these brave men, just know that we will always remember and acknowledge your sacrifices and your service, every step of the way.

“I hope, from your perspective, this dedication is indeed the legacies of your husbands, and that it is fair to say that the citizens of North Carolina and the citizens of South Dakota will forever share a kindred bond,” he said.

 The ceremony was held one day after the death of 19 firefighters in the Yarnell Hill wildfire in central Arizona.