UPDATE @ 4.00PM | Officials in New South Wales have confirmed three people are dead after a large air tanker crashed while fighting a blaze in the Snowy Mountains.
Contact with the C-130 Hercules was lost when the aircraft was near Cooma around 1.30pm before the plane disappeared off radar.
A major search was launched with helicopters spotting the wreckage a couple of hours later.
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It’s understood the plane burst into flames upon impact with reports fire crews on the ground witnessed the crash.
New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says there were no survivors from the crash.
“It’s 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,” Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.
“It is a difficult and sobering reminder of the inherent dangers associated with fire fighting and we’ve seen all too often unfortunately this season the very tragic consequences that can come as a result of these significant bushfires burning across New South Wales.”
Commissioner Fitzsimmons says there is no early indication on what caused the crash and has urged people to avoid speculating.
An investigation will now be undertaken by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
The plane was being used under contract from US company Coulson Aviation.
The companies other tankers that are being used in Australia have been grounded for the time being.
In a statement, Coulson Aviation confirmed the aircraft had departed Richmond RAAF base with a load of retardant.
“The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities.”
“The accident response team has been activated as well as local emergency services, Coulson Aviation will be sending a team to the site to assist in emergency operations.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the three crew members on board.”
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian described the incident as ‘tragic’.
“Our thoughts and prayers and heartfelt condolences go to their families,” Premier Berejiklian said.
“It demonstrates the dangerous work currently being undertaken and it also demonstrates the conditions our firefighters are working under, there are in excess of 70 aircraft that have been used today alone.”
EARLIER @ 1.45PM by Shanee Dobeson | A large air tanker which was helping battle a bushfire in the NSW Snowy Monaro area is believed to have crashed.
The NSW Rural Fire Service confirmed they’re investigating reports of a serious incident involving an aircraft in Southern NSW this afternoon.
“Contact was lost with a large air tanker which was working in the Snowy Monaro area,” the NSW RFS said in a statement.
“Local ground crews indicate the aircraft may have crashed.”
A number of helicopters are in the area at the moment carrying out a major search.
It’s understood the plane involved is a C-130 Hercules.
No further information is available at this time.