Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Nation & World

Australia tries to recover bodies of 3 from US wildfire crew

The deaths came during an unprecedented wildfire season that has left a large swath of destruction in Australia’s southeast.
People climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge stop under flags flying at half-mast as mark of mourning and respect in Sydney, Australia, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, for three U.S. crew members of an aerial water tanker that crashed Thursday while battling wildfires in Australia. [RICK RYCROFT  |  AP]
People climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge stop under flags flying at half-mast as mark of mourning and respect in Sydney, Australia, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, for three U.S. crew members of an aerial water tanker that crashed Thursday while battling wildfires in Australia. [RICK RYCROFT | AP]
Published Jan. 24

SYDNEY — A tanker plane that crashed and killed its three American crew members as they fought wildfires in Australia had just dropped liquid to suppress the flames, investigators said Friday.

The crash Thursday killed Capt. Ian H. McBeth, 44, of Great Falls, Montana; First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42, of Buckeye, Arizona; and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., 43, of Navarre, Florida, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement.

The deaths came during an unprecedented wildfire season that has left a large swath of destruction in Australia’s southeast. More than 30 people have died, including three Australian volunteer firefighters.

Investigators went to where the C-130 Hercules tanker crashed in the Snowy Monaro region of the state of New South Wales, and a team was working to recover the Americans’ bodies, Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Greg Hood told reporters.

He said it would be difficult to secure evidence and the remains because the wildfire is still burning and the team faces potential hazards such as aviation fuel.

Upward of 500 aircraft from several countries are fighting Australia’s wildfires, Hood said.

“So, if there are lessons to be learned from this particular accident, it’s really important that not only Australia learns these, but the world learns them,” he said.

Coulson Aviation said McBeth “was a highly qualified and respected C-130 pilot with many years fighting fire, both in the military” and with the company.

McBeth, who is survived by his wife and three children, also served with the Montana and Wyoming National Guards, the company said.

McBeth grew up in Wray, Colorado, a small town on the state’s rural eastern Plains. He learned how to fly in the Wyoming Air National Guard while he was a student at University of Wyoming, his father, Bill McBeth, said.

Ian McBeth worked as a construction specialist — a jack of all trades trained to build airfields for C-130s — and later as a navigator on the planes, including several tours in Iraq. He did the work after vision problems initially denied him becoming a pilot. He applied again at age 28, a year before his eligibility would run out, and was accepted.

“He was determined, tenacious and tough. Probably the most all around capable and competent person I ever knew,” Bill McBeth said.

Hudson graduated from the Naval Academy in 1999 and spent the next 20 years in different positions in the Marines, including as a C-130 pilot, Coulson Aviation said. He is survived by his wife.

DeMorgan served in the U.S. Air Force, with 18 years as a flight engineer on C-130s, the company said. He had more than 4,000 hours as a flight engineer, with nearly 2,000 hours in combat.

“Rick’s passion was always flying and his children,” Coulson Aviation said.

He is survived by two children, his parents and his sister.

A memorial service will be held Feb. 23 in Sydney for the U.S. and Australian firefighters who have died this wildfire season, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

“We will pay tribute to the brave firefighters who lost their own lives protecting the lives and properties of others,” she said.

The three U.S. deaths brings the toll from the blazes to at least 31 since September. The fires also have destroyed more than 2,600 homes and burned more than 104,000 square kilometers (40,000 square miles), an area bigger than the U.S. state of Indiana.

Coulson grounded other firefighting aircraft as a precaution pending an investigation, reducing planes available to firefighters in New South Wales and neighboring Victoria state. The four-propeller Hercules drops more than 15,000 liters (4,000 gallons) of fire retardant in a single pass.

Berejiklian said more than 1,700 volunteers and personnel were in the field. Five fires were being described at an “emergency warning” level — the most dangerous on a three-tier scale — across the state and on the fringes of the national capital, Canberra.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

  1. In this image from a video taken on Monday, U.S. passengers who evacuated off the quarantined cruise ship the Diamond Princess and officials wait for the takeoff of a Kalitta Air airplane bound for the U.S., at Haneda airport in Tokyo.(Cheryl and Paul Molesky via AP)
  2. In this Oct. 28, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with Attorney General William Barr before Trump signed an executive order creating a commission to study law enforcement and justice at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Convention in Chicago.
  3. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani,during the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on Friday. The 2020 edition of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) takes place from Friday to Sunday. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool photo via AP)
  4. In this July 11, 2019, file photo, Attorney General William Barr, left, and President Donald Trump turn to leave after speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington. Attorney General William Barr took a public swipe Thursday at President Donald Trump, saying that the president’s tweets about Justice Department prosecutors and cases “make it impossible for me to do my job.”  Barr made the comment during an interview with ABC News just days after the Justice Department overruled its own prosecutors. they had initially recommended in a court filing that President Donald Trump’s longtime ally and confidant Roger Stone be sentenced to 7 to 9 years in prison. But the next day, the Justice Department took the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for Stone. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
  5. New Air Force dress guidelines released Feb. 7, 2020 set standards allowing personnel to wear turbans, hijabs and beards.
  6. FILE - In this July 11, 2019, file photo, Attorney General William Barr, left, and President Donald Trump turn to leave after speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington. Attorney General William Barr took a public swipe Thursday at President Donald Trump, saying that the president’s tweets about Justice Department prosecutors and cases “make it impossible for me to do my job.”  Barr made the comment during an interview with ABC News just days after the Justice Department overruled its own prosecutors. they had initially recommended in a court filing that President Donald Trump’s longtime ally and confidant Roger Stone be sentenced to 7 to 9 years in prison. But the next day, the Justice Department took the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for Stone.
  7. This undated photo provided by the Cayce Department of Public Safety shows Faye Marie Swetlik, who has been missing since shortly after getting off her school bus near her South Carolina home Monday. Investigators say they have no evidence that the girl was kidnapped from her neighborhood in the state's central city of Cayce, S.C. Authorities have not ruled out that the girl was abducted (Cayce Department of Public Safety via AP)
  8. In this Jan. 29, 2020, file photo, a tourist wearing a mask poses for a photo with the Olympic rings in the background, at Tokyo's Odaiba district. Tokyo Olympic organizers repeated their message at the start of two days of meetings with the IOC: this summer's games will not be cancelled or postponed by the coronavirus spreading  neighboring China. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
  9. This Oct. 14, 2009 file photo, shows copies of the McClatchy Co. owned Miami Herald newspaper in Miami. McClatchy Co., the publisher of the Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star and dozens of other newspapers across the country is filing for bankruptcy protection. McClatchy Co. said Thursday, that it will continue to run normally as it pursues approval of its restructuring plan under Chapter 11.   (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
  10. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
  11. Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price speaks to members of the media during a news conference, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
  12. In this Saturday image taken from video, a voter registration tent lays on its side after Gregory Timm drove a van through it, in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said Sunday Timm was arrested in the incident. (WJXT News4Jax via AP)
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement