Three US firefighters die in Australia as water tanker plane crashes
Three American firefighters have died after a water tanker plane crashed while battling blazing bushfires in New South Wales in Australia.
The C-130 Hercules air tanker crashed while fighting bushfires near Peak View, in Australia's alpine region, killing all three of its crew.
Australian authorities said that all three crew members were American residents, adding that they did not immediately know why the plane crashed.
"Tragically, there appears to be no survivors as a result of the crash down in the Snowy Monaro area," said Shane Fitzsimmons, the Rural Fire Services Commissioner for New South Wales state.
Fitzsimmons added that the tanker "impacted heavily with the ground and initial reports are that there was a large fireball associated with the impact of the plane as it hit the ground".
"There is no indication at this stage of what's caused the accident," he added.
According to Fitzsimmons, contact was lost with the C-130 water-bombing plane shortly before 1.30pm local time on Thursday.
The state’s Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, expressed her condolences to the families of the three crew members.
“Our thoughts and heartfelt condolences are with their families and the tight knit firefighting community,” Berejiklian said on Twitter.
Heartbreaking & devastating news that three US residents who were crew members operating a LAT in the Snowy Mountains region have lost their lives. Our thoughts & heartfelt condolences are with their families & the tight knit firefighting community. pic.twitter.com/fQ5gphfm6A
— Gladys Berejiklian (@GladysB) January 23, 2020
The crew members belonged to Coulson Aviation, an aerial firefighting company that owned the aircraft contracted to the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Coulson Aviation said in a statement that the crew had been on a firebombing mission when the accident occurred.
"The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities," the statement reads.
"The accident response team has been activated as well as local emergency services. Coulson Aviation will be sending a team to the site to assist the emergency operations."
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said that it is launching an investigation into the incident and that a preliminary report will be released in 30 days, but if a critical safety issue was identified during the course of the investigation it would immediately notify the relevant stakeholders.
Fires continue to rage in New South Wales, where the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said on Thursday that 70 fires were burning, 44 of which are not contained.
Three of the fires are at Emergency Warning, while over 1,700 firefighters are working in an effort to contain them.
At 6.15pm there are 70 fires burning, 44 are not contained. Three are at Emergency Warning. More than 1,700 firefighters are at work. Hot conditions will continue tonight for many areas. A slow moving southerly change will reach Moruya at 8pm & Sydney at 11pm. #nswfires #nswrfs pic.twitter.com/RwBiifA9VY
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 23, 2020