A C-130 Hercules operating in NSW, Australia, has crashed as it supported firefighting efforts in the southern part of the state.
A veteran firefighting crew on board the heavy air tanker, registration N134CG, had flown 130 waterbombing missions over the Australian bushfires prior to the crash, killing all three onboard.
The aircraft, a Lockheed Martin-built EC-130Q, is owned by British Columbia-based Coulson Aviation and contracted to support bush fire efforts across Australia’s eastern states.
Speaking at a press conference today, NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said: “We simply lost contact with the machine and the flight tracker we used stopped – there’s no indication at this time what caused the accident.”
“The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it’s crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash,” he said.
“Unfortunately, all we’ve been able to do is locate the wreckage and the crash site and we have not been able to locate any survivors.”
The well-respected and highly experienced crew onboard are confirmed as American citizens, however their details are yet to be released.
The crew arrived in Australia on November 5, and have delivered over two million litres of water and fire retardant on missions from Tasmania to NSW.
The aircraft disappeared around 1.30pm AEST on Thursday afternoon near the fire front, having left its Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base in Richmond, NSW, at 12.05pm AEST.
It flew a flight path to the affected area up to 4,000 feet.
Temperatures today have soared to 40 degrees (104F), delivering extremely gusty flight conditions for air assets supporting NSW firefighting efforts.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the crash deaths in the state’s Monaro region, best known as the Snowy Mountains.
The specific area of the crash is known as Peak View, northeast of Cooma.
On a facebook post issued after the crash, Coulson Aviation said: “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 onboard.”
Berejiklian said there were over 1,7000 volunteers and personal working to control the fires today.
“[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 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.”
Coulson Group CEO Wayne Coulson is currently en-route from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to Australia to assess the incident.
Coulson Aviation was founded in 1985 and has delivered aerial fire support services to the United States since 1990.
From 2016 the company has operated four C-130 Hercules aircraft.