Americans killed in air tanker crash named
The Americans killed in a firey plane crash yesterday have been identified, with their families expected to land in Australia early tomorrow to bring their loved ones home.
Captain Ian McBeth, First Officer Paul Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jnr died instantly yesterday when their C-130 Hercules plane crashed in the south of New South Wales, exploding into a ball of flames.
Thre three firefighting aeroplane crew members - aged 43, 43 and 45 - were killed just before 2pm yesterday when the aerial water tanker they were in crashed while battling fires near Cooma in the state's Snowy Mountains region.
The plane was operated by Canada-based Coulson Aviation, which confirmed one of its Lockheed large air tankers had been lost after it left Richmond with retardant for a firebombing mission.
Detectives from the NSW Police Force are now assisting investigators from the Air Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), who are expected to take over control of the site once it has been deemed safe by Fire and Rescue NSW's HAZMAT.
The plane crash tragedy comes as another six volunteer fireys were injured overnight when their water tanker rolled.
All six were fighting the Clyde Mountain fire in Eurobodalla and were taken to hospital with serious injuries.
Earlier, NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said that "the plane came down, it's crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash".
Channel 7 this morning broadcast pictures of the crash as emergency services worked to extinguish the smouldering wreckage.
The RFS lost contact with the large air tanker about 1.30pm, with a panicked call coming in not long after that saying the plane had crashed.
The audio of the call was broadcast by Nine News.
"Fire comms…message red speak to your captain. Message this is red," a man could be heard saying.
The man says the word "crashed" before the audio cuts out briefly.
"Yeah fire comms…it's just a ball of flames. Over."
In a press conference this morning, NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott paid tribute to the US and Canadian firefighters, who are heading home today.
"Some of you we will see again. But I hope that, if your various jurisdictions need to put their hand up for assistance from us, let me promise you that we'll be there. We'll be there," he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and US Vice President Mike Pence have also paid tribute to the three men.
On behalf of the Australian people, I express our deepest condolences on the tragic loss of 3 US firefighters in yesterday's Large Air Tanker crash that occurred while they were fighting the terrible Australian #bushfires.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 23, 2020
Karen & I send our prayers & deep condolences to the families of the 3 brave American firefighters who died in AUS yesterday while on their way to battle the terrible bushfires. Our Nation will always honor the memory of those lost in the line of duty working to help others.— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) January 23, 2020
Mr Fitzsimmons said the three fireys were "well respected and well regarded" and said the four-propeller Hercules plane the men had been in drops more than 15,000L of fire retardant in a single pass.
"The Coulson Aviation family is very much at the forefront of this large air tanker movement that is operating right around the global," he said.
"We have had the benefit of working with them now for five years in contracting here in NSW with the large air tankers.
"The old Hercules it is a workhorse of the air and well regarded for its manoeuvrable and lift capabilities and as a water-bombers it carries 15,000 litres of water that can be mixed with product such as retardants and firefighting foams and gel.
"The larger machines can operate longer and under conditions where the winds are stronger than say some of the smaller helicopters or the smaller aeroplanes.
"They have a weight of attack which is without equivalent anywhere in the air. So to be able to deliver 15,000 litres from its base in Richmond and the RAAF Base to anywhere in NSW in less than an hour, and seamlessly integrate into that firefighting operation, it has been a game changer in the last few years.
"We are all feeling the absolute tragedy of the loss of these remarkable and highly professional individuals yesterday."
Coulson spokeswoman Robyn Baldwin declined to identify the crew members or say what US states they were from.
"We ask for privacy at this time as we mourn the loss of our crew members," Ms Baldwin said.
Investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau have travelled to the crash site to start collecting evidence.
"Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant stakeholders so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken," the ATSB said in a statement.
The region is still an active fireground.
"There is no indication at this stage of what's caused the accident," Fitzsimmons said.
The families of the three firefighters are being notified before their names are released to the public.