Family of US 'fallen heroes' who died in aerial tanker crash arrive in Australia

Relatives of the three "fallen heroes" killed when their firefighting plane crashed in southern NSW have begun arriving in NSW as crash investigators try to safely retrieve the black box from a kilometre-long crash site.

The families of captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr will be offered the chance to visit the crash site northeast of Cooma.

The US trio died when their C-130 Hercules dropped fire retardant along a ridge and then crashed at Peak View northeast of Cooma, NSW on Thursday afternoon.

Their bodies were recovered by police on Friday.

Relatives of the US trio killed in firefighting operations in southern NSW began arriving in NSW. Source: AAP

Recovering the black box

Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators on Saturday will make the site safe by securing aviation fuel, the magnesium wheels and any unexploded oxygen bottles before recovering the plane's voice recorder.

The kilometre-long crash site was "complicated" because it was in an active bushfire area, ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said on Friday.

Representatives of Canadian company Coulson Aviation, which operated the C-130 dubbed Zeus, accompanied a relative in Sydney airport on Saturday.

‘Fallen heroes’

Coulson has described the three airmen as "fallen heroes" and said the deaths would be "deeply felt by all" in the aviation industry and emergency service sector.

Ian McBeth, Paul Hudson and Rick DeMorgan Jr have been named as the three men who died in a firefighting aircraft in NSW. Source: Coulson Aviation

Florida father-of-two Mr DeMorgan, 43, spent 18 years in the US Air Force as a flight engineer on C-130s with extensive combat experience.

His loss was "surreal", his sister said online.

"He was a beloved friend, colleague, father, son and most of all brother," Jen DeMorgan posted online.

"To most the sky was the limit, to them it was home."

Former Air Force colleague Lexi Petel thanked Mr DeMorgan "for the wisdom".

Coulson said Capt McBeth's love for his wife Bowdie and three children "was evident for anyone who spent time around him".

Flags will fly at half-mast on Saturday in Montana, where the highly qualified 44-year-old pilot flew with the National Guard.

Close friend Cassandra Baker thanked Capt McBeth for the "all the arguments, bear poking, crap talking, hearty laughter, and for just being you, always".

Footage from the ground in the aftermath of the crash. Source: Today via Twitter/ Byron Kaye

"Thank you for loving my best friend so dearly and ardently, so often from afar, for bringing such beautiful children into this world, and for doing a noble thing that you also happened to love," she posted online.

Montana Governor and one-time presidential hopeful Steve Bullock said Capt McBeth took his call of duty even further to help those in need across the world.

"Ian was a devoted father and husband, a brave first responder, and a selfless service member who made the ultimate sacrifice helping the people of Australia combat the catastrophic wildfires devastating their country," Mr Bullock said.

‘Arizona is heartbroken’

Mr Hudson, a 42-year-old from the outskirts of Phoenix, spent 20 years as a US Marine, flying C-130s and receiving many decorations as he reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He is survived by his wife Noreen.

"Arizona is heartbroken by this news," Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said.

"First Officer Paul Hudson was a hero who dedicated his life to service, first as a Marine, then as a firefighter. And when help was needed to fight wildfires in Australia, he didn't hesitate."

The death toll from NSW's unprecedented bushfire season climbed to 25 on Friday evening after the body of a 59-year-old man was found in a home on the state's South Coast.

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