Three American crew members died in Australia after their aerial water tanker crashed while battling the country's devastating wildfires on Thursday.
Capt. Ian H. McBeth, 44, from Great Falls, Montana; First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42, from Buckeye, Arizona; and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., 43 of Navarre, Florida, died in the C-130 crash, Coulson Aviation of Canada confirmed in a press release.
"At Coulson Aviation, we have the incredible job of fighting fires around the world and we take pride in this responsibility," the company said in a statement. "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."
According to Coulson Aviation, McBeth "spent his entire career flying C-130’s," and was a former member of the Wyoming Air National Guard and an active member of the Montana Air National Guard. He was a husband and father of three children.
Hudson was a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marines who retired as a lieutenant colonel, Coulson Aviation said in its statement.
DeMorgan, a father of two, spent 18 years as a flight engineer on the C-130 in the U.S. Air Force, according to Coulson Aviation.
"We as a company are committed to supporting the families of our fallen heroes through this tragedy," Coulson Aviation said.
"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."
According to the company, the C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker departed from Richmond, New South Wales, and was on a firebombing mission in the Snowy Monaro area.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said in a news conference Thursday that contact was lost with the aircraft a little before 1:30 p.m. local time, adding that there’s still no indication of what caused the crash.
“The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it’s crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash,” he said.
The tragedy brings the death toll from the blazes to at least 31 since September.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Twitter that flags will fly at half-staff Friday out of respect for the three U.S. firefighters who lost their lives.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had conveyed Australia's condolences to U.S. Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse Jr.
“Our hearts go out to their loved ones. They were helping Australia, far from their own homes, an embodiment of the deep friendship between our two countries,” she said in a statement.
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Coulson grounded other firefighting aircrafts as a precaution pending investigation, reducing planes available to firefighters in New South Wales and neighboring Victoria state. The four-propeller Hercules drops more than 4,000 gallons of fire retardant in a single pass.
The Australian fires have destroyed more than 2,600 homes and scorched more than 25.7 million acres, an area bigger than Indiana.
Berejiklian said there were more than 1,700 volunteers and personnel in the field, and 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.
Contributing: The Associated Press.
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Australia wildfires: American firefighters killed in plane crash ID'd