The three Americans killed in a C-130 air tanker crash while fighting Australian bushfires on Thursday were all identified as military veterans, according to a statement released by their employer, Coulson Aviation.
The oldest of the three fallen veterans was Ian H. McBeth, a 44-year-old pilot who served with the Wyoming Air National Guard and was an active member of the Montana Air National Guard. McBeth "spent his entire career flying C-130s and was a qualified Instructor and Evaluator pilot," said Coulson Aviation. He's survived by his wife Bowdie and three children Abigail, Calvin and Ella.
The second veteran, 43-year-old Florida resident Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., served in the Air Force for 18 years as a C-130 flight engineer. He logged 4,000 hours as a flight engineer with nearly 2,000 hours in a combat environment, Coulson said, and he is survived by his two children, Lucas and Logan.
The third veteran, 42-year-old Arizona resident Paul Clyde Hudson, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1999 and served 20 years in the Marine Corps, where he worked as a C-130 pilot and retired as a Lt. Colonel. He is survived by his wife Noreen, Coulson said.
"The aviation industry and emergency service sector is a small community both in Australia and around the world," Coulson Aviation said in its statement. "This will be deeply felt by all."
According to Reuters, Australian authorities did not immediately know why the C-130 crashed. The plane carried a load of fire retardant into a valley in the alpine Snowy Monaro region and did not return, officials said.
A team of investigators are from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau are looking into the accident, Reuters said. It will take about 30 days for the release of a preliminary report, unless investigators find a critical safety issue, in which case they would notify stakeholders immediately.
The deaths take to 32 the toll from hundreds of wildfires in Australia since September, Reuters reported. 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.