Australia: C-130 Hercules water-bombing plane crashes while fighting blaze

Three American crew members have died after an RFS aerial water tanker crashed in the Snowy Monaro area on Thursday afternoon.

The wreckage was located by search crews and early reports suggest only the plane’s tail section is intact, while the remainder broke up on impact.

Crews say the crash site is surrounded by difficult terrain and “terrible visibility”.

The NSW Rural Fire Service said contact was lost with the C-130 Hercules in the Snowy Monaro area on Thursday afternoon.

Witnesses in the area say they saw a “ball of fire” as the aircraft reportedly hit the ground.

A number of aircraft were carrying out a search in Peak View, northeast of Cooma, including a P-8A Poseidon.

Five road ambulances and two rescue helicopters also attended the scene.

The fire in the Snowy Mountains region and one in the Bega Valley on the south coast of New South Wales (NSW) state both flared up, with emergency authorities warning residents to get out if they did not plan to defend their properties.

“Fire dangers are just starting to peak, and we’re in for a long afternoon and night across many areas of NSW,” the state’s Rural Fire Service said on its Twitter account.

According to the Rural Fire Service website, a large air tanker was to be based in New South Wales year-round starting in late 2019.

The Boeing 737 planes, which typically have two pilots on board, can carry more than 15,000 litres of water or fire retardant and are used to support ground crews in their firefighting efforts.

The bushfire in the mountainous region, about five hours from Sydney, is burning across almost 94,000 hectares (230,000 acres).

The crash came as  Canberra Airport closed due to nearby wildfires, and residents south of Australia’s capital were told to seek shelter.