Australia fires: US crew dead in firefighting plane crash

An air tanker has crashed in a fireball while fighting bushfires in Australia, killing the three people on board.

Officials lost contact with the C-130 Hercules plane shortly before 13:30 local time (02:30 GMT) on Thursday.

The cause of the crash in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales (NSW) state is not yet known. The victims were American residents.

More than 80 blazes are raging across the state after hot and windy conditions returned.

The plane crashed in an active fire zone two hours south of Australia’s capital, Canberra, said the NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS).

“The field reports are that the plane came down, it’s crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash,” said Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

A NSW Rural Fire Services Hercules C-130 large air tanker drops water in an exercise over western Sydney in 2017
Image captionLarge air tankers such as the Hercules C-130 model are crucial to firefighting operations

The last available flight data showed the aircraft – which is owned by a Canadian company – near Cooma.

The three crew members have not been identified.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian have expressed condolences for the firefighters’ families.

“Today, again demonstrates the fire season is far from over,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday. Fires in southern Australia are expected to peak in February and continue into April.

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