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Three American crew members have died in Australia after an air tanker crashed in the state of New South Wales, where fires continue to burn out of control.
The water-bombing tanker had been chartered by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS), state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in a news conference on Thursday. It was called in to fight a bushfire near the town of Cooma, in the state’s southeast.
The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council told CNN the casualties were American. The crew members belonged to Coulson Aviation, an aerial firefighting company that owned the aircraft contracted to the NSW RFS.
Coulson Aviation said in a statement that the crew had been on a firebombing mission when the accident occurred.
The NSW Rural Fire Service lost contact with the Hercules C-130 in the Snowy Monaro area just before 1.30pm.
Fitzsimmons says the aircraft “was operating as it routinely does with waterbombing activities”.
The plane had been chartered from a Canadian firm, Coulson Aviation, to undertake bushfire relief work for several years.
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said it took “some time” for ground crews and aerial surveillance to locate the wreckage which is surrounded by difficult terrain and visibility.
Witnesses say the aircraft was a fireball as it plummeted into dense bush in the Snowy Monaro.