Three American firefighters who died when their water-bombing plane lost control and crashed whilst tackling bushfires in southern New South Wales have been identified. Captain Ian McBeth, First Officer Paul Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr. were all on-board the C-130 aircraft when it got into difficulty on Thursday.
Coulson Aviation, who employed all three men, issued a statement on Friday in which they paid tribute to the “fallen heroes” and expressed their condolences to the mens’ families back in the United States.
Captain McBeth, from Great Falls, Montana, was an experienced pilot who had spent many years fighting fires, both in the military and with Coulson Aviation. He is survived by his wife Bowdie and children Abigail, Ella and Calvin.
A spokesperson for Coulson Aviation said: “Ian’s love for his wife and children was evident for anyone who spent time around him.”
First Officer Paul Hudson, from Buckeye, Arizona, spent 20 years in the United States Marine Corp. He is survived by his wife Noreen.
Rick DeMorgan, from Navarre, Flordia, served as a flight engineer on the C-130 in the US Air Force for 18 years. He had more than 4,000 hours as a flight engineer, with 2,000 of those being in a combat environment.
He is survived by his children Lucas and Logan, who were described as “his passion”, along with flying.
A spokesperson added: “Right now, our hearts are with the crew’s family and friends and our Coulson Family suffering in the loss of these three remarkable and well-respected crew-members.
“We as a company are committed to supporting the families of our fallen heroes through this tragedy. Our crews in Australia are fully supported by the RFS with their critical incident support personnel. Our crews on the other aircraft will be returning to work in the very near future as they are dedicated to the job we are required to do. We must continue to work with emergency services to protect local communities.”
The reason for the crash has not yet been confirmed, however the aircraft lost contact with the ground at around 1.45pm, around 1 hour and 40 minutes after taking off from RAAF Base Richmond.
Many Australian people paid their respects to the heroes, who arrived in Australia to assist with the bushfire relief effort at the start of November last year. Writing on social media, one person said: “Thank you Ian, Paul and Rick for your tireless service and sacrifice. You guys have been heroes for us this bushfire season. I am heartbroken that your dedication has taken your lives. The pain your families are in must be insufferable, but they can be forever proud of your courage and selfless service. Rest in peace legends, we will remember you.”
Another wrote: “Thank you for helping Australia. I am so very sorry for the families, loved ones, friends and colleagues of these 3 amazing heroes. We will never forget you.”
While another commented: “My condolences to your families and friends. All of us Aussies are so very sad to hear of your losses. These men were so brave to come all this way to help fight our fires and save our animals. Words can’t express the gratitude we all feel. RIP to these wonderful heroes.”
New South Wales Rural Fire Service also paid tribute to the men, and said: “The NSW RFS mourns the loss of the three crewmembers, killed in yesterday’s Large Air Tanker crash. Our thoughts are with their families, fellow crewmembers and the broader emergency services family that knew and worked with them.”