Mooresville's Paul Mikeal was a veteran military pilot who was aware of the danger of flying a tanker plane to fight wildfires, but he also was a family man who enjoyed spending time with his wife and children.
Mikeal, a 42-year-old lieutenant colonel in the N.C. Air National Guard, was killed Sunday night in the crash of a C-130 Hercules plane that was fighting the White Draw wildfire in southwest South Dakota. MIkeal was a pilot, but it is not clear if he was piloting the plane when it went down.
On Monday, his mother-in-law, Grace Partridge, said Mikeal had spent his last day at home before deployment on firefighting duties with his family.
She said her son-in-law recently bought a pair of kayaks, and the two had rowed across Lake Norman together on Friday. The next day, Mikeal and other members of the 145th Air Wing, based in Charlotte, left for duty in Colorado.
Mikeal told a reporter
with a Denver-based website Saturday that he was looking forward to returning home later this week to spend time with his family. Partridge said Mikeal and his wife, Marlo, were preparing to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary next week.
Mikeal entered the Air Force after college as a commissioned officer in 1991. He met his future wife at UNC Charlotte, where she also was in the ROTC. She entered the Air Force a year after him, and the pair soon wed.
Mikeal was the father of a 15-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son.
"He was a real family man," Partridge said. "They liked to go out to the lake (Norman) boating. He took his son fishing a lot."
She said Mikeal had served on numerous deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan since the wars started, as a C-130 pilot. She said the family worried about his safety.
"It's something we all worried about, but he never really said anything about it," Partridge recalled. "He wasn't the type to complain. He had a passion for flying."
In the interview with the Denver website, Examiner.com
, Mikeal talked about the dangers of fighting fires from the air.
"We have to worry about getting in and out of the mountains," he said. "The plane does not perform quite as well in the high altitudes."