An East Tennessee native killed while fighting a wildfire in the Black Hills of South Dakota is being called a hero tonight by family members.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul K. Mikeal, 42, was one of four airmen who died in a C-130 crash Sunday. Mikeal's plane was attached to the 145th Airlift Wing in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Mikeal's younger sister Angie Yonce said Mikeal lived in Clinton until he graduated from Clinton High School in 1987. She said their family always knew he wanted to be a pilot.
"He always wanted to go into the service," she said.
Yonce remembered her brother as a "real family guy." She said he leaves behind a 15-year-old daughter, 12-year-old son, and wife he had been married to for 20 years.
"We were a real tight knit family," Yonce said.
Before the crash, Mikeal and his family had lived in Mooresville, North Carolina for 10 years, according to Yonce. Mikeal was also a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
"It's devastating," Yonce said. "You always know this is something that could happen, having a brother as a pilot, but hope and pray that it never happens to your loved one."
Investigators have yet to determine the cause of Sunday's crash. After it happened, the Pentagon temporarily grounded C-130s from firefighting duties. However, Tuesday, the aircraft were allowed to once again resume flight.