Three people have been confirmed dead after a Large Air Tanker firefighting plane crashed in New South Wales this afternoon.
Reports emerged just after 2PM that the Lockeheed C-130 Hercules water-bomber may have gone down in the Snowy Monaro area after NSW Rural Fire Service lost contact with the aircraft. At about 4:30PM state premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed that the plane had crashed and that three crew members on board were killed.
It is unclear what caused the incident, with NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons saying “we simply lost contact with the machine and the flight tracker we used stopped,” according to The Guardian. The RFS said the aircraft was engaged in "routine" waterbombing activities at the time.
"Tragically, there appears to be no survivors as a result of the crash down in the Snowy Monaro area," Fitzsimmons said. “It’s 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. It is still an active fire ground and it was very difficult to locate the wreckage.”
The RFS Commissioner later confirmed that all three people who died in the incident were American residents.
The aircraft was contracted to the RFS through American aerial firefighting company Coulson Aviation, which has since grounded its large air tankers as a precautionary measure. Fitzsimmons acknowledged that this is likely to impact fire-fighting capabilities on the ground in NSW, and paid his respects to Coulson.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with them now in this most awful of times," Commissioner Fitzsimmons said. "Our hearts are with all those that are suffering in what is the loss of three remarkable, well respected, crew that have invested so many decades of their life into firefighting."
Berejiklian also gave her condolences to the families of the deceased and expressed her gratitude to the victims for their selflessness in saving the lives and properties of others.
"Today demonstrates the fire season is far from over," she said. "Today is a reminder of how every single person who is defending life and property is at risk."