The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Federal Government have acknowledged there will be setbacks to aerial firefighting across NSW after the waterbomber crash that killed three people yesterday.
- The C-130 waterbomber that crashed yesterday was an important tool for the Rural Fire Service
- It was contracted through Coulson Aviation which has now grounded all its aircraft
- The Federal Government says four waterbombers arriving in Australia will fill the void
A Lockheed C-130 Hercules working in the Snowy Monaro area came down around 2:00pm yesterday, killing three US aerial firefighting specialists.
The C-130, which can carry 15,000 litres of water, is a “workhorse”, according to RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
It was deployed yesterday to drop retardant on an out-of-control bushfire north-west of Adaminaby.
Its loss will be a noticeable blow to the fleet but the RFS has stressed there is plenty of aerial assistance available.
“It’s absolutely a loss to the aviation capabilities ” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“But we can adapt and accommodate the loss of [this asset] as we have a number of others operating in NSW.”
The aircraft, known as Zeus, was contracted through Canadian-American aerial firefighting company Coulson Aviation (USA).
It was one of more than 100 aircraft used by the RFS during the catastrophic bushfire season.
The RFS’s fleet only includes one large air tanker, a 737, but they have had contract arrangements to use C-130s through Coulson Aviation for around five years.
“They can be anywhere in New South Wales within an hour and seamlessly integrate into local firefighting operations,” Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.
“Whether it is building retardant lines to limit the spread of fire or having a tremendous knock-down affect on fire spread and flanks of fires, they have been there and in amongst it right throughout the fire season the last five years.”
In the wake of yesterday’s tragedy, Coulson Aviation said they would ground all large air tankers as a mark of respect but RFS spokesperson Greg Allan said there was no cause for panic.
“[Zeus] was a very valued aircraft, it has done amazing work, but we have a large fleet. We have the support,” he said.
Zeus landing in California in September 2019.
Federal Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud said there was no doubt losing a C-130 would have repercussions on short-term firefighting efforts, but reinforcements were on their way.
As part of a $11 million boost to aerial firefighting announced last December, the Federal Government has invested in four waterbombing aircraft.
“[Three] were brought into Australia last week and another one will be here next week,” he said.
“We will … make sure these are able to take up the void of those aircraft that will now be grounded.”
Mr Allen said aerial firefighting had been relied upon almost every day since the bushfire season began.
Today will be no exception, Mr Allen said, with air tankers assisting crews on the ground who are battling mammoth blazes on the south coast.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons described the three men killed in the crash as “remarkable individuals, well-known, highly respected and regarded as part of the Coulson’s Aviation family.”
“Three remarkable men, coming down here to Australia once again this season, helping us to save and protect people but tragically this year, they won’t be going home to the United States,” he said.