Home Fire News Update: 3 US firefighters killed battling wildfires in Australia identified

Update: 3 US firefighters killed battling wildfires in Australia identified

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UPDATE:

The names and other details about the three fallen firefighters were in a statement released by Coulson Aviation, of Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada, on its website Thursday.

The company confirmed that Capt. Ian McBeth, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr. died in the crash, the cause of which remains unclear.

DeMorgan Jr. served in the Air Force and had 18 years’ experience as a flight engineer on the C-130, serving 2,000 hours in combat.

“Rick lived in Navarre, Fla., and is survived by his two children Lucas and Logan, his parents Rick Sr, Linda, and his sister Virginia,” the company said in its statement. “Rick had over 4,000 hours as a Flight Engineer with nearly 2,000 hours in a combat environment. Rick’s passion was always flying and his children.”

McBeth lived in Great Falls, Mont., and is survived by his wife.

“Ian served with the Wyoming Air National Guard and was still a member of the Montana Air National Guard. He has spent his entire career flying C-130’s and was a qualified Instructor and Evaluator pilot. Ian earned his Initial Attack qualification for Coulson in 2018,” the company said in its statement.

Hudson, of Buckeye, Ariz., retired from the Marine Corps as a highly decorated lieutenant colonel.

“Paul graduated from the Naval Academy in 1999 and spent the next twenty years serving in the United States Marine Corp in a number of positions including C-130 pilot,” the company said in its statement.

US Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse said, in a statement Thursday, that he was “deeply saddened” by the tragic news.

“The brave Americans who died near Snowy Monaro died helping Australia in its time of need,” he said in the statement.

The three had been battling bushfires in the Snowy Monaro region of the state of New South Wales when their plane lost contact with ground crews around 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, The Australian newspaper reported Friday.

The plane crash resulted in a massive fireball, with emergency services only finding the tail of the aircraft still intact, the newspaper reported.

“Our deepest condolences are with the family and friends of our fallen heroes,” Coulson Aviation said in its statement. “We are incredibly moved by the outpouring of support from those in Australia and around the world. Our deepest condolences are with the family and friends of our fallen heroes.”

Earlier this month the Forest Service said 159 U.S. personnel, including 87 from the Forest Service, were helping battle bushfires in the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria that have destroyed millions of acres of forest and claimed at 25 lives.

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A waterbombing plane that was fighting fires in the alpine region of New South Wales has crashed and all three crew members were killed, officials confirmed Thursday.

A C-130 Hercules from Canada-based Coulson Aviation under contract to fight the fires in Australia crashed near Cooma, about 72 miles south of Canberra, on Thursday afternoon, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters in Sydney.

Names will not be released until relatives are notified. The crew were well known to Australian firefighters and hearts go out to their loved ones, he said.

All three crew members were residents of the United States, but their nationalities are not known at this stage.

“It is a confronting and sober reminder of the inherent risks in firefighting,” he said.

There was no obvious reason for the accident at this stage, but he said it was hot, windy, dry and smoky like many other days where waterbombers were operating.

“[The aircraft] 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,” Fitzsimmons said.

Firefighters are in the area trying to put out fires started by the crash.

As a precaution and a mark of respect Coulson Aviation has grounded its planes in Australia while an official investigation into the cause of the crash by the Air Transport Safety Bureau is underway, he said.

“The owners of Coulson will be on the first available flight out of Canada they can get on, and are expected to be here within 24 hours,” Fitzsimmons said.

“The crew were remarkable absolute professionals, well respected, very experienced who invested decades of their lives into firefighting.”

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was a tragic accident. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families.”

“We have 70 aircraft fighting the fires today and it shows the dangerous work our firefighters undertake on a daily basis,” she said.

“Today is a reminder that the fire season is far from over and that every person who is defending life and property is at risk. We can’t thank enough the people who put their own lives at risk to save others.”

It took several hours to find the crash after contact was lost with the plane due to rugged terrain, smoke and fires.

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