An aircraft fighting Australia’s relentless bushfires has crashed, killing all three people on board.
The three people manning the C-130 Hercules aircraft were U.S. residents, New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed at a press conference in Sydney on Thursday afternoon local time.
Berejiklian described the incident as a “stark and horrible reminder” of the difficult conditions faced by firefighters in the bushfire crisis and offered her condolences to the family and friends of those who died.
The large aircraft was undertaking routine water bombing activities in the Snowy Monaro region in the state’s south when it lost contact. Witnesses told authorities they saw a large fireball when the plane crashed.
Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said on Thursday authorities did not yet know what had caused the accident. Police and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau are investigating.
Three Australian volunteer firefighters had already died this bushfire season. This accident brings the total death toll to 32.
“Today again demonstrates the fire season is far from over,” Berejiklian said.
Rain earlier this week brought a temporary reprieve, but dangerously high temperatures on Thursday saw a return to extreme fire danger, with five fires burning at emergency level in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
The Hercules aircraft had been contracted from Canadian company Coulson Aviation to help the firefighting effort.
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The company’s other large air tankers were grounded on Thursday afternoon as a precaution.
Over 70 aircraft were involved in fighting the fires on Thursday, as well as more than 1700 volunteers and firefighting personnel.
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