SC native, killed fighting Dakota wildfires, returns to Carolinas

McCormick died in crash at South Dakota wildfire

cclick@thestate.comJuly 11, 2012 

The body of Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, a South Carolina native with a passion for flying, will be returned to Charlotte today, along with the bodies of three other North Carolina Air National Guardsmen who died earlier this month when their C-130 cargo plane crashed as the airmen battled a South Dakota wildfire.

McCormick, 36, a father of four who had served in Afghanistan and worked full-time as an instructor pilot and chief of training for the 156th Airlift Squadron, will be eulogized Friday at a funeral in Belmont, a suburban city west of Charlotte, his stepmother, Tricia McCormick, said Monday. His father, the Rev. Steve McCormick, is pastor of Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church off of Leesburg Road in Columbia.

“He always wanted to fly,” Tricia McCormick said Monday of her stepson, who was born in Newberry and graduated from Gilbert High School in 1994. “It was a passion ever since he was a kid.”

McCormick decided in his junior year at USC to join the S.C. Air National Guard after he graduated. His career in avionics took him to Texas and back to McEntire Air Force Base in South Carolina, Tricia McCormick said.

“Growing up, he was always an honor student and a leader,” she recalled. “Anything he did, he was always a leader.”

He was a devoted family man as well. His wife, Heather, had just given birth three weeks ago to the family’s fourth child, Margaret Ann. The couple has three other children, Luke 10, Thomas, 7, and Henry, 4.

“This was his first mission after the baby,” Tricia McCormick said.

The Asbury Memorial congregation in Columbia is providing support to the extended family, as is the congregation of Eastminster Presbyterian Church along Trenholm Road, where Tricia McCormick works. She said her husband told Asbury congregants to pray for them; when she left for Charlotte on Monday the sign outside the church said “Just Pray.”

The four airmen were killed July 1 when their C-130 transport belonging to the N.C Air National Guard’s145th Airlift Wing and armed with a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) crashed about 6:30 p.m. near Edgemont, S.D. They were fighting a blaze in the Black Hills region of western South Dakota. Two other airmen were injured in the crash, which remains under investigation.

Lt. Col. Rose Dunlap said Tuesday the bodies of the four will arrive sometime today at the 145th Air National Guard Base at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, where they will be received during a private service with honor guard.

The deadly crash was the first in the 40-year history of the MAFFS program, a joint Defense Department and U.S. Forest Service program that provides additional aerial firefighting resources.

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