SYDNEY - Three Americans died Thursday when a C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker crashed while battling wildfires in the Snowy Monaro region of Australia’s southern New South Wales state, officials said.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the deaths and crash in comments to reporters as Australia attempts to deal with an unprecedented fire season that has left a large swath of destruction.
Coulson Aviation in the U.S. state of Oregon said in a statement that one of its C-130 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.
He said all three aboard were U.S. residents.
“Unfortunately, all we’ve been able to do is locate the wreckage and the crash site and we have not been able to locate any survivors,” he said.
Berejiklian said there were more than 1,700 volunteers and personnel in the field, and five fires were being described at an “emergency warning level.”
Also Thursday, Canberra Airport closed because of nearby wildfires, and residents south of Australia’s capital were told to seek shelter.
The blaze started Wednesday, but strong winds and high temperatures caused conditions in Canberra to deteriorate. A second fire near the airport that started Thursday morning is at the “watch and act” level.
“Arrivals and departures are affected due to aviation firefighting operations,” the airport authority said in a tweet.
Another tweet from traffic police said “the fire is moving fast and there are multiple road closures in the area. Please avoid the area. Local roadblocks in place.”
Residents in some Canberra suburbs were advised to seek shelter and others to leave immediately.
“The defense force is both assisting to a degree and looking to whether that needs to be reinforced,” Defense Minister Angus Campbell told reporters.
“I have people who are both involved as persons who need to be moved from areas and office buildings that are potentially in danger, and also those persons who are part of the (Operation) Bushfire Assist effort,” he said.