Firefighters killed in water-bombing aircraft crash identified

Josh Dutton
News Reporter

The three firefighters who died on board a water bombing aircraft in the NSW Snowy Mountains have been identified.

The American crew members died after their plane crashed while fighting bushfires on Thursday.

The trio worked for US charter company Coulson Aviation who had been contracted by the NSW Rural Fire Service to fight the bushfires. The aviation company on Friday named the three killed as Ian McBeth, 44, Paul Hudson, 42, and Rick DeMorgan Jr, 43.

Coulson Aviation called the trio “fallen heroes”.

NSW RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons it appears there were no survivors in the crash.

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

"It's impacted heavily with the ground and initial reports are that there was a large fireball,” he said.

He added it was “operating as it routinely does”.

“We simply lost contract with the machine and the flight tracker we used stopped,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.

Both Mr McBeth and Mr DeMorgan Jr were fathers and are survived by their children, Coulson Aviation said in a statement.

Mr DeMorgan Jr’s “passion was always flying and his children”, the company said.

A former high school classmate of Mr Hudson’s wrote on Facebook the dad “died as he lived: helping others”.

“Ian’s love for his wife and children was evident for anyone who spent time around him,” the company said its description of Mr McBeth.

The company said Mr Hudson spent 20 years in the United States Marine Corp and is survived by his wife Noreen.

The NSW RFS Large Air Tanker drops fire retardant in the NSW Southern Highlands. Source: AAP

The men's families are expected to arrive in Sydney over the weekend.

Mr Fitzsimmons said the men were dedicated to the "art" of aerial firefighting.

"It's a body blow for everyone in the firefighting fraternity, in the community of NSW and further afield," he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

"It's a confronting and sobering reminder of the enormity of the risk and challenge associated with this fire season."

‘We know what we do is inherently dangerous’

Mr Fitzsimmons said he had spoken to Canada-based company Coulson Aviation, with the owners due to fly into Sydney on Saturday.

Mr Fitzsimmons labelled the C130 aircraft a "work horse of the air" which could carry 15,000 litres of water and integrate with firefighters on the ground.

Alaska region fire management officer Chuck Russell, part of the US and Canadian contingent in NSW, said there was a "sombre" mood among the firefighters since the deaths of Mr McBeth, Mr Hudson and Mr DeMorgan.

"It doesn't matter whether you're a contractor, a Canadian, a New Zealander or an Australian, it hits hard when we lose one of our own," he told reporters.

"We know what we do is inherently dangerous."

Firies offer a minute's silence during a farewell to Canadian and US firefighters at Novotel Sydney Airport on Friday. Source: AAP

Investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will travel to the Peak View crash site on Friday to start collecting evidence.

The bureau expects to complete preliminary findings within a month.

US ambassador Arthur Culvahouse said he was "deeply saddened" by the news.

"The brave Americans who died near Snowy Monaro died helping Australia in its time of need," Mr Culvahouse said in a statement.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne paid tribute to the US firefighters and said she had passed on Australia's condolences to Mr Culvahouse, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison had spoken with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The US firefighters and the three NSW firefighters who have died battling fires this season will be remembered in a state memorial service on February 23.

More to come.

With AAP

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