(UPDATED at 7:05 p.m. PT) — Three Americans were killed while fighting wildfires in New South Wales, Australia after their Lockheed C-130 aircraft crashed, according to the Portland office of Coulson Aviation.
Late Thursday, the company identified the people as Ian H. McBeth from Great Falls, MT; Paul Clyde Hudson from Buckeye, AZ; and Rick A. DeMorgan Jr. from Navarre, FL.
The large airtanker was loaded with fire retardant and on a dispersal mission.
“The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were 3 fatalities,” the company said in a statement.
The crew had extensive experience, especially on C-130 aircraft, the company said.
McBeth was a pilot and spent his entire career flying C-130’s, the company said, and had served in the Wyoming Air National Guard and was still a member of the Montana Air National Guard.
Hudson had spent 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps also also served as a C-130 pilot.
DeMorgan spent 18 years in the U.S. Air Force as a flight engineer on the C-130, with more than 2,000 hours in a combat environment.
Australia has experienced historic wildfires this summer.
Shane Fitzsimmons, the Rural Fire Services Commissioner for New South Wales state, spoke at a news conference.
NPR reported he said 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,” Fitzsimmons said, according to NPR.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management said earlier this month that four additional firefighters from Oregon and Washington had deployed to Australia to help battle the wildfires. They joined another 13 who were already there.
The BLM firefighters are helping with air tactical support, firefighter crew leadership and wildland fire incident management, according to the agency.