Passion for flying ends in tragedy

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Paul Mikeal was planning to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary and his 43rd birthday next week. His family knew he had a dangerous job, but said he had a passion for flying and service.

Mikeal, a Mooresville, N.C., father of two and lieutenant colonel in the North Carolina Air National Guard, was killed Sunday evening when his specially outfitted C-130 cargo plane crashed during a mission fighting wildfires in South Dakota.

A family acquaintance at the Charlotte home of Master Sergeant Robert Cannon confirmed he was also killed in the crash. She said his family was gathering and grieving, and no one was available to talk Monday night.

Authorities didn’t identify the plane’s six crew members Monday as they worked to notify their relatives. But they said some members of the crew were killed while the rest were seriously injured. The Charlotte Observer spoke with several family members who confirmed their loved ones were on the plane.

Joshua Marlowe, 28, of Shelby, N.C., was in a Rapid City, S.D., hospital following the crash, his mother-in-law said. The National Guard member’s wife was traveling to be at the hospital with him.

“Josh is in serious and stable condition,” said Martha Ledford. “The family appreciates the support and prayers from the community. (His wife) is out there with him. My husband and she left this morning.”

Mikeal entered the Air Force as a commissioned officer after graduating from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in 1991, his mother-in-law Gracie Partridge told the Observer. His wife, Mooresville real estate agent Marlo Mikeal, graduated a year after him and also entered the Air Force. The pair soon wed.

“I don’t think any woman could have asked for better,” said Partridge. “He was a very attentive husband, very easy to get along with.”

Mikeal was “a real family man,” said Partridge, who loved spending time with his 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. “They went to Myrtle Beach annually,” said Partridge. “They go to Florida from time to time, Disneyworld … They went out on the boat a lot . fished.”

He had recently bought kayaks, and liked paddling across Lake Norman with his son, Partridge said. The two of them had rowed across the lake on Friday, the day before Mikeal left to fight the wildfires in the west.

In the interview with Observer news partner WCNC-TV shortly before leaving Charlotte, Mikeal talked about the dangers of fighting fires from the air.

“The biggest challenge in Colorado, I believe, is going to be the terrain, the fact that it’s high,” he said. “Getting down into it and being effective, that’s going to be our biggest challenge.”

But Mikeal said his unit was ready to help, as they prepared to fight wildfires in Colorado and then South Dakota. “We’ve been prepared since May, we did our annual training in May, we are ready to go and help out as much as we can with the fires as soon as we get there,” he said.

Like many members of his unit, Mikeal had been deployed to the wars Iraq and Afghanistan, flying C-130 transport planes. Partridge said his family was concerned about his safety.

“It’s something we all worried about, but he never really said anything about it,” she said. “He was never the type to complain … I know he had a passion for flying.”


(Staff writer Elisabeth Arriero and researchers Maria David and Marion Paynter contributed to this report.)


&Copy;2012 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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