BC-owned water bomber crashes in Australia, killing three

Deadly water bomber crash

UPDATE: 11:10 a.m.

B.C.'s Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Doug Donaldson, says no Canadians were on board a firefighting water tanker that crashed in Australia, killing three people.

The C-130 Hercules aircraft was owned by Coulson Aviation of Port Alberni.

The aircraft was assisting with wildfire response in the Snowy Monaro area of New South Wales.

"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of everyone involved in this incident. On behalf of all British Columbians, I extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the flight crew and to the staff of Coulson Aviation," said Donaldson.

"The international firefighting community has rallied this year to help Australia during its catastrophic fire season. So far, 45 BC Wildfire Service staff have been deployed to Australia as part of the contingent of 172 Canadian firefighting personnel.

"We will continue to respond to requests for assistance from our Australian friends during their extremely challenging fire season."

Coulson issued a statement saying the aircraft had departed Richmond, NSW, with a load of fire retardant and that the company will be sending a team to the site.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the three crew members on board."

ORIGINAL: 6:45 a.m.

Three American crew members were killed Thursday when a C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker crashed while battling wildfires in southeastern Australia, officials said.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the crash deaths in the state's Snowy Monaro region, which came as Australia grapples with an unprecedented fire season that has left a large swath of destruction.

Coulson Aviation in Oregon said in a statement that one of its Lockheed large air tankers was lost after it left Richmond in New South Wales with retardant for a firebombing mission. It said the accident was “extensive" but had few other details.

“The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it's crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash,” said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had conveyed Australia's condolences to U.S. Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse Jr.

“Our hearts go out to their loved ones. They were helping Australia, far from their own homes, an embodiment of the deep friendship between our two countries,” she said in a statement.

“Thank you to these three, and to all the brave firefighters from Australia and around the world. Your service and contribution are extraordinary. We are ever grateful,” she added.

The tragedy brings the death toll from the blazes to at least 31 since September. The fires have also destroyed more than 2,600 homes and razed more than 10.4 million hectares.

Coulson grounded other firefighting aircraft as a precaution pending investigation, reducing planes available to firefighters in New South Wales and neighbouring Victoria state.

Also Thursday, Canberra Airport closed temporarily because of nearby wildfires, and residents south of the city were told to seek shelter. The airport reopened after several hours with Qantas operating limited services, but Virgin and Singapore Airlines cancelled flights for the rest of the day.

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