The final message sent by heroic firefighters on fatal flight

Nadine Carroll
·2-min read

One of the final messages from the three American firefighters who died on a water bombing aircraft while fighting the Australian Black Summer bushfires has been revealed.

First Officer Paul Hudson, flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr and Captain Ian McBeth died on January 23 after completing a waterbombing mission on an out-of-control bushfire near the Snowy Mountains. o

One of their final radio messages was to warn other pilots not to follow them.

“Don’t send anybody and we’re not going back,” the message said.

An interim report released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau revealed the final moments before the aircraft crashed, killing all onboard instantly.

Americans Ian McBeth, Paul Hudson and Rick DeMorgan Jr died in a firefighting aircraft in NSW.
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

After completing the retardant drop, the crew sent a text message to a spotter pilot assigned to the fire ground indicating that the conditions were “horrible down there”.

“They also reported to the Cooma Fire Control Command that the conditions were unsuitable for firebombing operations,” the report read, according to APN.

There was no distress call before the crash.

The report revealed there was “no appreciable change in the centre of gravity following a retardant drop” and that the voice recorder in the plane was not working.

Two RFS firefighters said they saw the plane begin to descend.

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

It hit the ground at about 280km/h and created a fuel-fed fire which led to the emergence of another bushfire.

All three firefighters had lengthy histories of working in aviation.

The trio worked for US charter company Coulson Aviation who had been contracted by the NSW Rural Fire Service to fight the bushfires.

NSW RFS commissioner Shane 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 at the time.

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

The ATSB will continue its investigation into the crash.

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