Coulson Group CEO Wayne Coulson paid tribute to the flight crew killed Jan. 23 when their C-130 Hercules converted air tanker crashed in the Snowy Mountain region of New South Wales, Australia.
Coulson and his family flew to the crash site on Saturday and walked the nearly one-kilometre-long crash area where the wreckage of the aircraft remains. A voice cockpit recorder was recovered, according to Australian news reports, and Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) officials will be going over it to see what they can learn of the crash. The C-130 did not have a flight data recorder or “black box,” according to those reports.
“To see our aircraft on the ground knowing we had such loss of life was devastating,” Coulson said at a press conference hosted by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS).
Captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr., all from the United States, died in the crash.
The aircraft was deployed to fires in the Snowy Mountains, about 100 kilometres away from Canberra, and was loaded with fire retardant. 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 the night of the crash.
There were approximately four other aircraft in the area fighting the fire at the time.
“These pilots were valued members of our firefighting family. They were known all around the world for their skill and experience in aerial firefighting and in the C-130 military world,” Coulson said, acknowledging that they are three of six firefighting deaths in NSW during this Australian firefighting season, and among others who have died country-wide.
“On behalf of the families of Capt. Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr., I would like to say thank you all for your support and kindness during this tragic time. The outpouring of heartfelt grief from around the world has been much appreciated and deeply felt at this time of loss.”
Coulson said they are working with the ATSB and the NSW police to understand the cause of the crash. Coulson grounded its air tanker crews following the crash to allow them time to emotionally process the accident. “We have met with the teams here in Sydney and they are back up in the air,” he said.
Coulson Group is a “safety first” company, and flies more than 6,000 firefighting missions per year around the world, he said.
“We have a strong relationship here in Australia. We’ve worked in Australia for the past 17 years in bush fires. It’s the second home to our family, our company and our crews because of the time we spend here.”
There are a number of fundraising opportunities that have been created to assist families of aircrew that have died fighting the Australia bushfires. One of them is a Coulson Tanker 134 Memorial Fund on gofundme, which has raised more than $16,000 of its $30,000 goal.