The U.S. Air Force returned seven firefighting tanker aircraft to service that had been grounded following the deadly crash of a C-130 that was battling a wildfire in South Dakota over the weekend, the military said.
The U.S. military has confirmed that there were multiple deaths from the Sunday evening crash, but has not said how many crew members were killed or injured.
The C-130 carried a crew of six from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145 Airlift Wing and was battling the White Draw Fire in southwestern South Dakota when it crashed, Reuters reports.
The North Carolina Air National Guard plans to release the names of the airmen killed in the crash on Tuesday afternoon. Family members have been notified.
The airplane was one of eight the U.S. Air Force has that can be quickly converted into firefighting tankers for a Defense Department-U.S. Forest Service program when private and commercial fleets cannot meet the need.
The Air Force suspended operations for the other seven airplanes in that fleet for one day after the crash “to review flying and safety procedures, in the context of what is known so far about the crash …,” the U.S. Northern Command said.
The investigation is ongoing, it said.
The crash was the first in the 40-year history of the Defense Department-Forest Service program, but at least the second of a tanker plane fighting U.S. wildfires this year.
A privately owned Lockheed Martin P2V crashed while dropping flame retardant on a Utah blaze last month, killing both crew members on board.
The Air Force C-130s typically carry a crew of six when they are equipped to fight fires, and can drop 3,000 gallons (11,000 liters) of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, enough to cover an area one-quarter mile long (0.4 km) and 100 yards (91 meters) wide. They can be refilled in 12 minutes.
All eight of the tankers had been activated at the same time for the first time since 2008 to help fight numerous wildfires in Colorado and three other western states.
They were all based temporarily at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, where the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history burned 346 homes and forced 32,000 people from their homes last week.
The C-130 that crashed had been sent to support efforts to contain the White Draw Fire, which started on Friday afternoon about five miles (8 km) northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota.
The fire had consumed about 4,950 acres (2,003 hectares) and was about 50 percent contained as of Monday evening.