Three Americans killed in an air tanker crash while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales have been described as heroes who “paid the ultimate sacrifice” during a memorial service in Sydney.
- The crew members were killed when their C-130 Large Air Tanker crashed near Cooma on January 23
- They had completed 140 missions since they began working in Australia on December 1
- The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it might not know the cause of the crash for quite some time
Captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr died when their C-130 Large Air Tanker crashed while fighting a bushfire north-east of Cooma on January 23.
Wives and children of two of the three fallen firefighters attended the private service which was held inside an RAAF hangar at Richmond air base.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Emergency Services Minister David Elliott also attended.
NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told mourners the crew had completed more than 140 aerial firefighting missions since December 1 in what he described as “a truly traumatic season” with more than 2,300 homes destroyed, more than 5.3 million hectares destroyed and 25 lives lost.
“But without dwelling on the enormity of loss, what I do need to say very publicly is that loss … would have been considerably greater if it weren’t for the efforts of the thousands of men and women operating on the front line and these special aviators that look after us from above.”
Commissioner Fitzsimmons said many in the firefighting fraternity had taken the men’s deaths hard.
“I plead with all of you, while it’s absolutely appropriate to grieve, to be emotional, to be sad, to shed a few tears, do not harbour guilt. Do not harbour or shoulder responsibility.”
He said “no stone would be left unturned” in the quest to determine the cause of the crash and ensure it would never happen again.
Mr Fitzsimmons presented the families with a NSW Commissioner’s Commendation for Service for the men’s “extraordinary contribution and ultimate sacrifice”.
RAAF chaplain Troy White described the men as “three heroes that undertook a very challenging and risky task and paid the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of so many others”.
“For that we are so grateful”.
John Gallagher, director of flight ops for the air tanker’s owner Coulson Aviation, told mourners the men had been part of an extended firefighting and aviation family.
“We have fun together, we laugh at each other and we make fun of each other, but when the buzzer goes off we crawl in airplanes together and as a crew we go to help people.
“These three gentleman all loved what they were doing with the Coulson family, they loved it very much.”
Yesterday relatives of the men were taken on a military helicopter to the crash site where they spent around four hours.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it might not know the cause of the crash for quite some time.
Investigators have retrieved the cockpit voice recorder and are expected to return to the site one final time before releasing a preliminary report in about a month.