‘Heavy hearts’: US mourns lost fireys

 

The United States' national firefighting agency has offered its condolences to the families of the three American fireys who died in a large air tanker crash in New South Wales yesterday.

The C-130 air tanker crashed near Peak View in the Snowy Mountains around 1:45pm on Thursday while conducting water bombing on large fires in the area.

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons later confirmed in a press conference there had been no survivors.

The Idaho-based US National Interagency Fire Center which specialises in firefighting in the wild and has coordinated US firefighters sent to Australia said the community was "deeply saddened" by the news and sent condolences to the families of those that died.

"Our thoughts are also with Coulson Aviation, other American firefighters, and our emergency service colleagues in New South Wales and throughout Australia who have been affected by this incident," it said.

"Every time a wildland firefighting tragedy occurs, the international wildland firefighting community is affected and deeply saddened. The aircraft was a Lockheed C-130Q Hercules, which was contracted to the NSW Rural Fire Service, through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) from Coulson Aviation, also a valued and longstanding wildland firefighting responder in the U.S. We continue to offer assistance to Australia and those affected by this heartbreaking incident."

 

People embrace at the Numeralla Rural Fire Brigade near where the water tanker plane crashed. Picture: Getty Images/Jenny Evans
People embrace at the Numeralla Rural Fire Brigade near where the water tanker plane crashed. Picture: Getty Images/Jenny Evans

 

It also posted on Facebook: "It's with heavy hearts that we offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the three American crew members lost in a large air tanker crash while fighting fires in the Snowy Monaro area of New South Wales, Australia."

The identities of the three firefighters have not yet been released, but the US Ambassador to Australia, Arthur B Culvahouse, described them as "brave Americans" who died "helping Australia in its time of need".

"Thank you Australia for your sympathy and solidarity," he said.

 

 

The US crew members were part of a large international contingent that has travelled to Australia in recent months to help fight the deadly bushfires.

More than 170 US firefighters are currently in Australia, according the Los Angeles Times, while Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Papua New Guinea and Japan have also sent dozens of volunteers, helicopters and troops.

RELATED: Panicked call for help as plane crashed

Many of the American fireys have experienced battling large wildfires in California.

"Just exchange the eucalyptus with the oak trees out there and it'd look just like home," one firefighter told the Los Angeles Times.

But they've also faced some uniquely Australian challenges.

"Crazy spiders, man, big spiders the size of your hand. Big ants, bullet ants and jumping jacks, 'hoppers,' they call 'em," Travis Braten said.

"Some guys have seen snakes. I haven't seen any, which is just fine with me. Sounds like everything is poisonous."

 

The water tanker that crashed while battling a blaze in southern NSW. Picture: AAP Image/ NSW RFS
The water tanker that crashed while battling a blaze in southern NSW. Picture: AAP Image/ NSW RFS

The plane that crashed on Thursday was owned and operated by Canada-based company, Coulson Aviation, and contracted to the RFS.

The company's owners are travelling to Australia and are expected to arrive in the next few hours.

"The aircraft had departed Richmond with a load of retardant and was on a firebombing mission," Coulson Aviation said in a statement.

"The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities."

The cause of the crash will be investigated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau with support from NSW Police.

The American firefighters had been battling a bushfire near Cooma in southern NSW. Picture: Getty Images/Jenny Evans
The American firefighters had been battling a bushfire near Cooma in southern NSW. Picture: Getty Images/Jenny Evans

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