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Canadian air tanker crashes while fighting Australia bushfires, three dead

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Canadian air tanker crashes while fighting Australia bushfires, three dead

By Byron Kaye, Colin Packham

 

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A plane releases fire retardant over forest during bushfires in South Turramurra, New South Wales, Australia November 12, 2019 in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. Video taken November 12,2019. IAIN BREW via REUTERS

 

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A Canadian-owned C-130 Hercules air tanker crashed while fighting bushfires in Australia’s alpine region on Thursday, killing all three of its crew, authorities said.

 

The victims were American residents, Australian authorities said, adding that they did not immediately know why the plane crashed while carrying a load of fire retardant.

 

“Tragically, there appear to be no survivors as a result of the crash down in the Snowy Monaro area,” said Shane Fitzsimmons, the chief of rural fire services for the southeastern state of New South Wales.

 

“(The tanker) impacted heavily with the ground and initial reports are that there was a large fireball associated with the impact of the plane as it hit the ground. There is no indication at this stage of what’s caused the accident.”

 

A spokesman for Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority said the aircraft went into a valley to drop the retardant and did not emerge.

 

Fitzsimmons said the plane had been leased by Canadian aerial firefighting company Coulson Aviation, which had a second C-130 Hercules working in the Australian bushfires operation.

 

Coulson had grounded its large air tanker fleet following the accident, he added, pending a review to rule out any systemic issue, such as a fuel problem.

 

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it was sending a team of investigators to the crash site to collect evidence and would analyse available recorded data, review weather information and interview any witnesses.

 

It would take about 30 days for the release of a preliminary report, it said, but if the investigation revealed a critical safety issue it would immediately notify stakeholders.

 

Coulson said the plane was on a firebombing mission with a load of retardant, and added that it would send a team to the crash site to assist.

 

“The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities,” it said in a brief emailed statement.

 

“SMOKE ALL OF A SUDDEN”

 

The deaths take to 32 the toll from hundreds of wildfires in Australia since September. One billion animals are also estimated to have perished as the fires incinerated 2,500 homes and a total area of bushland one-third the size of Germany.

 

Authorities had previously said the tanker was flying in the Snowy Monaro region, south of the capital Canberra.

 

Tracking website Flightradar24 showed the path for an air tanker used in waterbombing operations suddenly stopping in Peak View, south of Canberra.

 

According to its flight data, the aircraft departed the Richmond air force base in western Sydney around 12:15 p.m. (0115 GMT). It dropped off radar just after 2 p.m.

 

Peak View is close to a blaze burning out of control in the Wadbilliga National Park, the fire service said.

 

The plane may have been “aerodynamically overloaded”, said Geoffrey Dell, an expert in accident forensics and investigation, meaning it may have turned or changed altitude too quickly for its load, forcing it to lose altitude sharply.

 

“It’s designed to operate to certain G (gravity)-limits, and if you go over those, different parts of the structure can be overstressed,” added Dell, a professor at Central Queensland University.

 

Such air tankers typically carry 15,000 litres of water or fire retardant for release over blazes in areas that ground crews find hard to reach.

 

Belinda Greene, a receptionist at the Bredbo Inn Hotel near the crash site, said she heard police cars race by.

 

“We saw a lot of smoke all of a sudden a couple of hours ago,” she told Reuters by telephone.

 

The usually temperate mountain region has escaped some of the more devastating fires that have razed more than 11 million hectares (27 million acres) of Australia’s wilderness, fanned by high winds and searing temperatures.

 

The capital, Canberra, located just over 100 km (60 miles) from the crash site, shut its airport for several hours on Thursday because of a fire threat, while many residents were forced to seek shelter as fires raged nearby.

 

Damaging winds are fanning flames in parts of the Gippsland area in the southeastern state of Victoria, authorities said, near the site of fires in December.

 

Dense smoke also shrouded Sydney, but fire authorities said high temperatures should ease overnight.

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2020-01-23

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A lot of air tankers are retired military aircraft, often operated at one time by covert agencies.  The issue is that their flight logs have been deliberately modified to hide the secret missions they flew.  As a consequence, nobody really knows their history or the total hours on the airframes.  Several C130's have had the wings fall off in tanker operations. 

 

Tragic.  And I suspect there will be some not-so-favorable revelations coming up.

 

Edited by impulse

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9 hours ago, impulse said:

Several C130's have had the wings fall off in tanker operations. 

How could this happen if there were regular checks of the airplane?

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6 minutes ago, IAMHERE said:

How could this happen if there were regular checks of the airplane?

I could have been human error, once these planes are loaded with water to the max they can become extremely difficult to control especially in windy conditions. I believe this was a contractor from Canada signed up to the RFS to assist in fire control in NSW.

Certainly a sad event for the family and loved one's of the deceased.

Better order another one ....  

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A brave and noble death fighting the good fight rip hero’s rip.....

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1 hour ago, IAMHERE said:

How could this happen if there were regular checks of the airplane?

 

It's hard to find fatigue cracks on some hidden areas of the frame.  Lots of good info on the following links and some of the links within.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_United_States_airtanker_crashes

 

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2002-sep-25-me-walker25-story.html

 

Just to be clear, I don't know what happened in Australia.  But I had a personal connection and interest in some previous wrecks.  And the lawsuits that followed where evidence of logbook tampering was found.

 

Edited by impulse

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RIP

 

Sad SAD because New South Wales was and is my favorite destination  

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about the C130 relationship...

 - the aircraft that crashed, was a civilian L100 variant. (not an actual C130) 

 

The C130 that (wings fell off) was a centre section failure/explosion. This problem was one of the historical scenarios, that led to the early retirement of the C130'A' models...

 

 the question is; to try to equate which respective rL100 variants, equate to which C130 variant designs? 

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