Three U.S. firefighters were killed when a water tanker plane crashed while fighting bushfire in Australia, local authorities confirmed on Thursday, Trend reports citing Xinhua.
The Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules Large Air Tanker, owned by Canadian operator Coulson Aviation, had been fighting a bushfire in New South Wales (NSW).
The plane had served in NSW for several years. The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said earlier it lost contact with the plane on Thursday. A flight tracking website showed that the flight path ended south of Canberra.
"Tragically there appear to be no survivors as a result of the crash," said RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, adding all three crew members were U.S. citizens.
"It's impacted heavily with the ground and initial reports are that there was a large fireball," he said.
Although teams are continuing to search for the wreckage, with two out-of-control fires burning at emergency level, efforts to recover the downed aircraft have been largely hampered.
Gladys Berejiklian, premier of NSW, expressed her condolence to families of the deceased.
Large Air Tankers have the capacity to dump 15,000 liters of fire retardant in hard-to-access locations, allowing ground crews to create vital containment lines.
While firefighters have had some relief over the past week with heavy rain and cooler, more favorable wind conditions, on Thursday, temperature soared to over 40 degrees centigrade in some parts.
As a result, simmering fireground once again reignited.
"At 3:00 p.m. local time, there's 84 bush or grass fires across New South Wales State with nearly 40 yet to be contained," NSW RFS said on social media.
"Five fires are at Emergency Warning level. A southerly change is moving up the coast. It's not likely to reach places like Sydney until early tomorrow morning."
The smoke from one grass fire was so bad that Canberra Airport was forced to shut down, with all flights in and out of the nation's capital cancelled or severely delayed.
When asked about Thursday's plane crash, NSW Premier Berejiklian told reports that "it demonstrates the dangerous work currently being undertaken, and it also demonstrates the conditions that our firefighters are working under."
"There are in excess of 70 aircraft that have been used today alone. Today is a stark and horrible reminder of the dangerous conditions that our volunteers, emergency services personnel undertake daily," she said.
The identity of pilots has not yet been revealed by authorities.