Saturday, January 25, 2020

US Large Air Tanker Crashes Fighting Fires In Australia

Three dead after large air tanker crashes while fighting NSW fires: Officials in New South Wales have confirmed three people are dead after a large air tanker crashed while fighting a blaze in the Snowy Mountains.

Contact with the C-130 Hercules was lost when the aircraft was near Cooma around 1.30pm before the plane disappeared off radar. A major search was launched with helicopters spotting the wreckage a couple of hours later. It’s understood the plane burst into flames upon impact with reports fire crews on the ground witnessed the crash.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says there were no survivors from the crash. “It’s 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,” Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.

“It is a difficult and sobering reminder of the inherent dangers associated with fire fighting and we’ve seen all too often unfortunately this season the very tragic consequences that can come as a result of these significant bushfires burning across New South Wales.”

Commissioner Fitzsimmons says there is no early indication on what caused the crash and has urged people to avoid speculating. An investigation will now be undertaken  by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. The plane was being used under contract from US company Coulson Aviation. The company's other tankers that are being used in Australia have been grounded for the time being.

In a statement, Coulson Aviation confirmed the aircraft had departed Richmond RAAF base with a load of retardant. “The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities.”

“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 in emergency operations. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the three crew members on board.”

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian described the incident as ‘tragic’. “Our thoughts and prayers and heartfelt condolences go to their families,” Premier Berejiklian said. “It demonstrates the dangerous work currently being undertaken and it also demonstrates the conditions our firefighters are working under, there are in excess of 70 aircraft that have been used today alone.”

The NSW Rural Fire Service confirmed they’re investigating reports of a serious incident involving an aircraft in Southern NSW this afternoon. “Contact was lost with a large air tanker which was working in the Snowy Monaro area,” the NSW RFS said in a statement.

“Local ground crews indicate the aircraft may have crashed.” A number of helicopters are in the area at the moment carrying out a major search. It’s understood the plane involved is a C-130 Hercules. No further information is available at this time.

A Canadian-US aerial firefighting company has named the three Americans killed in an air tanker crash on Thursday in south-east New South Wales. In a post to Facebook, Coulson Aviation (USA) named captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr as the aerial firefighting crew who died in the crash of the C-130 Large Air Tanker north-east of Cooma.

The company said its deepest condolences were with the family and friends of those who died. The Rural Fire Service (RFS) was leasing aircraft from the North American company to help fight bushfires.

The statement said 44-year-old captain McBeth lived in Great Falls, Montana, and was a highly respected C-130 pilot and qualified instructor with experience fighting fires both in the military and with the aviation company.

He served with the Wyoming Air National Guard and was later a member of the Montana Air National Guard. "Ian's love for his wife [Bowdie] and children [Abigail, Calvin, and Ella] was evident for anyone who spent time around him," Coulson Aviation said in a statement.

First officer Hudson, 42, from the United States Marine Corps, lived in Buckeye Arizona and had 20 years of service in the US Marines. He is survived by his wife Noreen, who lives in Arizona.

Mr DeMorgan Jr, 43, from Navarre, Florida, served in the US Air Force with 18 years as a flight engineer on the C-130. "Rick's passion was always flying and his children [Lucas and Logan]," the statement read.

The statement said the company's crews on other aircraft would be returning to work soon. "We must continue to work with emergency services to protect local communities," the statement read. The company thanked members of the public for their support in the wake of the fatal crash.

"We are incredibly moved by the outpouring and support from those in Australian and around the world," the statement read. "Thank you for recognising the work that our crews do and for expressing your condolences and grief for the families of our fallen heroes."

Mr DeMorgan Jr was described as a "a true American hero" in a Facebook post by his cousin Pattsy Garnett. The office of the Governor of California tweeted that they were "heartbroken to learn of the air tanker crash in Australia that claimed the lives of 3 heroic American firefighters".

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection extended "heartfelt condolences", tweeting: "Although they didn't wear the Cal Fire patch, they were committed to protecting lives & their loss is felt deeply." NSW Police said they hope to recover the bodies from the crash site today.

Disintegrated remains of the C130 Large Fire Tanker at the crash site.
Military Honours For 3 Dead US Aerial-Firefighters  

Police have recovered the bodies of three American aerial firefighters, as their extensive military service is honoured back in the United States. It is believed their air tanker crashed shortly after releasing retardant over a blaze in Snowy Monaro on Thursday

Captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr were on a firebombing operation on Thursday when their C-130 Large Air Tanker hit the ground. It is believed the air tanker crashed shortly after releasing retardant over a blaze in Snowy Monaro.

Police have recovered their bodies and the Federal Government has promised to repatriate them back to the United States as soon as possible. Investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) have gathered evidence, including the plane's black box, from the crash site in Peak View.

All three of the American crew came from strong military backgrounds and in the US, flags were being lowered in their honour.

Mr McBeth grew up in a small rural community on Colorado's plains and worked as a ranch head in neighbouring Nebraska at 14 and was a standout athlete in football, wrestling and track. He served in the Wyoming Air National Guard while a student at the University of Wyoming and later joined the Air National Guard in Montana, where flags were ordered lowered in his honour on Saturday.

Initially stymied in his dream of becoming a pilot, Mr McBeth first served as a jack of all trades, building landing strips for C-130 Hercules and later as a navigator, including in Iraq. At 28, a year before he would lose eligibility to become a pilot, he applied again and was accepted. His father, Bill, told the Associated Press his son was "determined, tenacious and tough" and was the most "capable and competent person" he knew.

Mr Hudson, from Arizona, spent 20 yeas serving in the US Marine Corps, including as a C-130 pilot, before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He went on to earn a masters degree in business administration and information technology management from the Naval Postgraduate School.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey noted Mr Hudson's lengthy military service when he ordered flags on all public buildings in the state be lowered on Saturday. "Then, when duty called again, First Officer Hudson didn't hesitate, putting his life on the line to help others battling wildfires in Australia," Governor Ducey said.

The third crew member, Mr DeMorgan, served in the US Air Force for 24 years and had over 4,000 hours' experience as a flight engineer, with nearly half of those in combat situations. His sister, Virginia, said his passions were his two children and flying. "He loved flying from the time he was a kid," she said.