Air tanker battling wildfires crashes in Australia, killing 3 U.S. firefighters

Authorities have confirmed three U.S.-born crew members have died after an air tanker crashed in the Snowy Monaro region of NSW while fighting bushfires. 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons confirmed in a press conference on Thursday that all three occupants on board the C-130 Hercules were U.S. residents.

“Our hearts are with all those that are suffering what is the loss of three remarkable, well-respected crew that have invested so many decades of their life into firefighting and fire management and are professionals in the aviation sector and the aviation firefighting sector,” Fitzsimmons told reporters. 

“Those, all three occupants on board were U.S. residents.

″[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.

“The military helped us in the deployment to try to locate the crash site and locate the wreckage and see if we could identify survivors. 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.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons address the media on Thursday.

Hundreds of bushfires in Australia have killed 29 people since September, as well as an estimated 1 billion animals, while incinerating 2,500 homes and a total area of bushland one-third the size of Germany.

“Today again we’ve seen tragic consequence where three people have lost their lives after a large air tanker crashed in the Snowy Mountains Monaro region,”  Berejiklian told the media conference. 

The Lockheed-built four-engine turboprop can typically accommodate between two and six.

Flight tracking website Flightradar24 showed the flight path for an air tanker used in waterbombing operations suddenly stopping in Peak View, south of Canberra.

According to its flight data, the aircraft departed the Richmond air force base in western Sydney around 12:15 pm local time. It dropped off radar just after 2 p.m. Peak View is close to a blaze burning out of control in the Wadbilliga National Park, the fire service said.

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Scenes from Australia's wildfire fight
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Scenes from Australia's wildfire fight
A burnt-out residence is seen in Sarsfield, East Gippsland, Victoria, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Australia's military will provide support for the response to Victoria's bushfires, as four people remain missing in the blazes. (James Ross/AAP Images via AP)
In this image dated Dec. 30, 2019, and provided by NSW Rural Fire Service via their twitter account, firefighters are seen as they try to protect homes around Charmhaven, New South Wales. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states Tuesday trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. (Twitter@NSWRFS via AP)
In this image made from video, people evacuate to a lake to escape wildfires Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in Ulladulla, New South Wales, Australia, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states have trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 9, Channel 7 via AP)
A burnt-out residence is seen in Sarsfield, East Gippsland, Victoria, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions Tuesday and were feared to have destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. (James Ross/AAP Images via AP)
In this image made from video, vehicles are parked during a road closure as smoke rises in the rear, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in Brogo, new South Wales, Australia. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states have trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties and caused at least two fatalities. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 9, Channel 7 via AP)
In this image made from video, a fire is extinguished behind a house in Mollymook, New south Wales, Australia, Tuesday, Derc. 31, 2019. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states have trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties and caused at least two fatalities. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 9, Channel 7 via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial view shows wildfires in the forests of Gippsland, Victoria, Australia, Dec. 31, 2019. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states have trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties and caused at least two fatalities. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial scene shows destroyed homes and properties after a wildfire in East Grippsland, Victoria, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states Tuesday trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial view shows wildfires in the forests of Gippsland, Victoria, Australia, Dec. 31, 2019. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states have trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties and caused at least two fatalities. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial scene shows fires burning in East Grippsland, Victoria state, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states Tuesday trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial scene shows fires burning in East Grippsland, Victoria state, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states Tuesday trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 photo provided by State Government of Victoria, a helicopter tackles a wildfire in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions Tuesday, Dec. 31, and were feared to have destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. (State Government of Victoria via AP)
This Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 photo provided by State Government of Victoria shows wildfires in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions Tuesday, Dec. 31, and were feared to have destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. (State Government of Victoria via AP)
A skycrane drops water on a bushfire in scrub behind houses in Bundoora, Melbourne, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. New Year’s Eve fireworks in Australia’s capital and other cities have been canceled as the wildfire danger worsens in oppressive summer heat, and pressure was building for Sydney’s iconic celebrations to be similarly scrapped.(Ellen Smith/AAP Images via AP)
In this Dec. 30, 2019, photo, CFA firefighter is seen as a fire hit Clovemont Way in Bundoora outside Melbourne, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions Tuesday and were feared to have destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. (Julian Smith/AAP Images via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial scene shows fires burning in Bundoora, Victoria state, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. New Year’s Eve fireworks in Australia’s capital and other cities have been canceled as the wildfire danger worsens in oppressive summer heat, and pressure was building for Sydney’s iconic celebrations to be similarly scrapped. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial scene showsfires burning in Bundoora, Victoria state, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. New Year’s Eve fireworks in Australia’s capital and other cities have been canceled as the wildfire danger worsens in oppressive summer heat, and pressure was building for Sydney’s iconic celebrations to be similarly scrapped. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial scene shows fires burning and smoke rising close to properties in Bundoora, Victoria state, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. New Year’s Eve fireworks in Australia’s capital and other cities have been canceled as the wildfire danger worsens in oppressive summer heat, and pressure was building for Sydney’s iconic celebrations to be similarly scrapped. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this aerial image made from video, fire burning in Birdwood, South Australia state, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019. South Australia state, which last week had dozens of homes destroyed after wildfires flared in catastrophic conditions, is bracing for a return of extreme temperatures, with Adelaide, the state capital, expected to reach 41 C (106 F) on Saturday.(Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, smoke rises from wildfires Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, in the Blue Mountains, New South Whales, Australia. Firefighters battling wildfires in Australia’s most populous state are attempting to make headway amid favorable conditions, before an "extreme heatwave" hits embattled areas on the weekend. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)
In this image made from video, smoke rises from wildfires Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, in the Blue Mountains, New South Whales, Australia. Firefighters battling wildfires in Australia’s most populous state are attempting to make headway amid favorable conditions, before an "extreme heatwave" hits embattled areas on the weekend. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial scene shows fire burning in Birdwood, South Australia state, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019. South Australia state, which last week had dozens of homes destroyed after wildfires flared in catastrophic conditions, is bracing for a return of extreme temperatures, with Adelaide, the state capital, expected to reach 41 C (106 F) on Saturday.(Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial scene shows a truck driving near fire burning in Harrogate, South Australia, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019. South Australia state, which last week had dozens of homes destroyed after wildfires flared in catastrophic conditions, is bracing for a return of extreme temperatures, with Adelaide, the state capital, expected to reach 41 C (106 F) on Saturday.(Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, an aerial scene shows firefighters spray water on rising smoke in Birdwood, South Australia, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019. South Australia state, which last week had dozens of homes destroyed after wildfires flared in catastrophic conditions, is bracing for a return of extreme temperatures, with Adelaide, the state capital, expected to reach 41 C (106 F) on Saturday.(Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 7, Channel 9 via AP)
This image made from video taken on Dec. 22, 2019, and provided Dec. 25, 2019, by Ingleside Rural Fire Brigade, shows the wildfire behind an emergency vehicle near property on Hat Hill Road in Blackheath, New South Wales. Australian authorities have warned that the fires in New South Wales could fester for months, causing more angst for exhausted firefighters.(Ingleside Rural Fire Brigade via AP)
In this image made from video taken on Dec. 23, 2019, and provided Dec. 25, 2019, by Ingleside Rural Fire Brigade, fire brigade volunteers trying to tackle the fire in Kurrajong Heights, New South Wales. Australian authorities have warned that the fires in New South Wales could fester for months, causing more angst for exhausted firefighters.(Ingleside Rural Fire Brigade via AP)
This image made from video taken on Dec. 22, 2019, and provided Dec. 25, 2019, by Ingleside Rural Fire Brigade, shows the wildfire behind an emergency vehicle near property on Hat Hill Road in Blackheath, New South Wales. Australian authorities have warned that the fires in New South Wales could fester for months, causing more angst for exhausted firefighters.(Ingleside Rural Fire Brigade via AP)
This image made from video shows a house on fire from a bushfire, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, in Gumeracha, South Australia. Australia’s embattled prime minister has defended his government’s climate policy, as authorities warned that the wildfires ravaging the country’s most populous state could fester for months. (Australian Broadcast Corporation via AP)
FIEL - In this image made from video taken on Dec. 22, 2019, and provided by Oakbank Balhannah CFS, a koala drinks water from a bottle given by a firefighter in Cudlee Creek, South Australia. Thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney, further diminishing Australia's iconic marsupial, while the fire danger accelerated Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019 in the country’s east as temperatures soared. (Oakbank Balhannah CFS via AP, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2019, file image made from video, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison looks at fire damage from a helicopter near Gospers Mountain, New South Wales. Morrison announced Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, financial support for some volunteer firefighters in New South Wales, the state worst hit by wildfires ravaging the nation, as authorities braced for conditions to deteriorate with high temperatures. (Australian Pool via AP, File)
In this image made from video, two people watch from a look out of smoke from wildfire, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia. Australia’s embattled prime minister has defended his government’s climate policy, as authorities warned that the wildfires ravaging the country’s most populous state could fester for months. (Australian Broadcast Corporation via AP)
In this image made from video, a sign offers thanks and a Merry Christmas in a destroyed residential area by wildfire, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia. Australia’s embattled prime minister has defended his government’s climate policy, as authorities warned that the wildfires ravaging the country’s most populous state could fester for months. (Australian Broadcast Corporation via AP)
In this image made from video, a home smolders after a wildfire, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia. Australia’s embattled prime minister has defended his government’s climate policy, as authorities warned that the wildfires ravaging the country’s most populous state could fester for months. (Australian Broadcast Corporation via AP)
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Several ambulances and a helicopter were at the scene of the suspected crash, an emergency services source said.

Such air tankers typically carry 15,000 liters of water or fire retardant to be released over fires, which can help contain blazes in areas ground crews find hard to reach.

Belinda Greene, a receptionist at the Bredbo Inn Hotel near the suspected crash site, said she heard police cars racing by in the early afternoon.

“We saw a lot of smoke all of a sudden a couple of hours ago,” she told Reuters by telephone.

Australian safety authorities said they were gathering further information on the incident.

“The federal authorities through the ATSB, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, as well as the New South Wales police force will be undertaking, as is their jurisdiction, appropriate investigations and assessments as to what may have happened to cause or result in this crash,” Fitzsimmons said. 

Coulson Aviation has confirmed the accident on Twitter.

With contributions from Reuters. 

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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