Australia bushfires: Plane fighting fire crashes, all three crew members killed

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Australian bushfires: A large Canadian water tanker C-130 Hercules deployed to fight the bushfires in Australia crashed while operating south of Sydney on Thursday, killing all three crew members on board, news agencies have reported. The chief of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) Shane Fitzsimmons confirmed the crash and condoled the death of the crew, all of whom were citizens of the US. The crash occurred at 1.30 pm local time (8 am IST). While the cause of the crash is yet to be ascertained, NSWRFS said the firefighting plane, which was operating in the Snowy Monaro area, lost contact with the ground.

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The crash took place when the plane entered the bushfire-affected valley while it was loaded with the fire retardant. A Reuters report quoted Fitzsimmons as saying that the tanker hit the ground with a heavy impact, causing a fireball to erupt at the site of the crash. Soon after the incident, emergency services, military personnel and firefighters were pressed into service for a search and rescue operation and they managed to locate the wreckage.

The aircraft, owned by Coulson Aviation, has the capacity to drop over 15,000 litres of fire retardant in a single go. After the crash occurred, Coulson Aviation grounded its fleet of firefighter planes. They are now waiting for an inquiry into the cause of the crash, in case it turns out to be an issue with the plane manufacturing.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will be investigating the site of the crash and they would analyse the data to ascertain the cause of the crash. While the preliminary report would be released in 1 month, the bureau said that if any critical flaw comes to fore during the investigation, they would intimate the same to the aviation company.

With this crash, the death toll due to Australian bushfires has risen to 32 since September. Several large bushfires have been occurring in Australia since June last year, having burnt an estimated 46 million acres of land. The fires have killed over one million animals and it is feared that several endangered species may have been pushed towards extinction.