Three dead as Canadian waterbomber plane crashes while fighting Australia bushfires

A Canadian-owned C-130 Hercules air tanker crashed while fighting bushfires in Australia’s alpine region on Thursday, killing all three of its crew, authorities said.
The victims were American residents, Australian authorities said, adding that they did not immediately know why the plane crashed while carrying a load of fire retardant.
“Tragically, there appear to be no survivors as a result of the crash down in the Snowy Monaro area,” said Shane Fitzsimmons, the Chief of Rural Fire Services for the Southeastern State of New South Wales.
“(The tanker) 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.
“There is no indication at this stage of what’s caused the accident.”
A spokesman for Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority said the aircraft went into a valley to drop the retardant and did not emerge.
Fitzsimmons said the plane had been leased by Canadian aerial firefighting company Coulson Aviation, which had a second C-130 Hercules working in the Australian bushfires operation.
Coulson had grounded its large air tanker fleet following the accident, he added, pending a review to rule out any systemic issue, such as a fuel problem.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it was sending a team of investigators to the crash site to collect evidence and would analyse available recorded data, review weather information and interview any witnesses.
It would take about 30 days for the release of a preliminary report, it said, but if the investigation revealed a critical safety issue it would immediately notify stakeholders.
Coulson said the plane was on a firebombing mission with a load of retardant, and added that it would send a team to the crash site to assist.
“The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities,” it said in a brief emailed statement.
The deaths take to 32 the toll from hundreds of wildfires in Australia since September.
One billion animals are also estimated to have perished as the fires incinerated 2,500 homes and a total area of bushland one-third the size of Germany.
Tracking website Flightradar24 showed the path for an air tanker 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 p.m. (0115 GMT).
It dropped off radar just after 2pm.
Peak View is close to a blaze burning out of control in the Wadbilliga National Park, the fire service said.
Reuters/NAN.