The New South Wales Rural Fire Service confirms three people have died after a C-130 heavy air tanker owned by Coulson Aviation crashed in Australia this afternoon.
The aircraft was deployed to fires in the Snowy Mountains. They lost contact with the machine and the flight tracker stopped. “There’s no indication at this time what caused the accident,” NSW RFS commission Shane Fitzsimmons said in a press conference tonight.
There were approximately four other aircraft in the area fighting the fire at the time.
The weather has been hot, dry and windy with smoke and dust in the area. “It was another very difficult, aggressive fire day.”
“We are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities,” Coulson Aviation confirmed in a post on its Coulson Aviation - Next Gen Firefighting Facebook page.
The aircraft had departed Richmond, NSW with a load of retardant and was on a firebombing mission. “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 onboard,” said the statement, signed “The Coulson Family.”
The NSW RFS reported on Twitter at 7:22 p.m. PST that it was investigating reports of a “serious incident” involving an aircraft in southern New South Wales.
The NSW RFS media release states that contact was lost with a large air tanker working in the Snowy Monaro area. The wreckage has been located. There was a fireball associated with the crash, according to the NSW RFS spokesperson.
“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the three crew…and with Coulson Aviation, with whom we’ve had a long association.”
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in a news conference that the crash “demonstrates the dangerous work being undertaken and demonstrates the conditions that our firefighters are working under. There were in excess of 70 aircraft being used today (Jan. 23 in Australia) alone.
“Today is a stark and horrible reminder of the dangerous conditions that our volunteers and emergency services personnel across a number of agencies undertake on a daily basis.”
Berejiklian said there were 1,700 volunteers and personnel working to control fires a number of fires across New South Wales on the day the plane crashed.
Coulson grounded their large air tankers this afternoon in NSW and Victoria pending a review and out of respect to the families of the crew members, a NSW spokesperson said. No names are being released pending notification of next of kin. All three crew members were U.S. residents, Fitzsimmons said.
Coulson Aviation representatives will be in Sydney, NSW within the next 24 hours.
Coulson and the NSW RFS have worked together for the past four or five years and last year purchased a converted 737 air tanker from the Port Alberni-based aviation company. Coulson is contracted to operate and maintain that 737 for the Rural Fire Service, and also has a second 737 and second C-130 operating in the state of Victoria, Fitzsimmons said.
The NSW Rural Fire Service is investigating reports of a serious incident involving an aircraft in southern NSW this afternoon.— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 23, 2020
Contact was lost with a Large Air Tanker which was working in the Snowy Monaro area. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/i6u1mlZsZ0