Voice recorder recovered in US fire crew fatal crash

 

Devastated colleagues of three Americans killed when their large air tanker crashed while battling a bushfire in southern NSW arrived in Sydney on Saturday.

Captain Ian McBeth, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan died on Thursday when their C-130 Hercules plane crashed near Numeralla in the Snowy Mountains.

It comes as NSW Police and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released confronting images of the crash site where investigators are working to piece together what happened.

Police and the ATSB have released images of the catastrophic crash of the C-130 Hercules firefighting aircraft in the Snowy Mountains area on Thursday. Source: NSW Police / ATSB
Police and the ATSB have released images of the catastrophic crash of the C-130 Hercules firefighting aircraft in the Snowy Mountains area on Thursday. Source: NSW Police / ATSB

Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators made the site safe by securing aviation fuel, the magnesium wheels and unexploded oxygen bottles.

Investigators uncovered the cockpit voice recorder inside the wreckage of the C-130 Coulson plane on Saturday.

ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said the recorder, which captured the final two hours of the flight, was transported to Canberra to be examined.

"We should have some indication tomorrow when the data is downloaded as to whether it's useful," he said.

The catastrophic crash scene. The US trio died when their C-130 Hercules dropped fire retardant along a ridge and then crashed at Peak View northeast of Cooma, NSW on Thursday afternoon. Source: NSW Police / ATSB
The catastrophic crash scene. The US trio died when their C-130 Hercules dropped fire retardant along a ridge and then crashed at Peak View northeast of Cooma, NSW on Thursday afternoon. Source: NSW Police / ATSB

The kilometre-long crash site was "complicated" because it was in an active bushfire area, ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said.

The experienced team arrived in NSW late last year to help locals battle the state's ongoing bushfire crisis.

The plane was on loan from Canadian company Coulson Aviation, which has fought fires around the world.

Captain Ian McBeth in front of a Montana Air National Guard C-130. Picture: AP
Captain Ian McBeth in front of a Montana Air National Guard C-130. Picture: AP

As investigators continue to examine the crash site on a private property at Peak View, representatives from Coulson touched down at Sydney International Airport.

Just before 10am, Australian Federal Police officers escorted one visibly upset woman through the arrivals terminal and into a waiting car, believed to be from the US Consulate General.

The McBeth family have released this family portrait of Captain Ian McBeth with daughters Abigail and Ella, wife Bowdie, and son Calvin. Picture: AP
The McBeth family have released this family portrait of Captain Ian McBeth with daughters Abigail and Ella, wife Bowdie, and son Calvin. Picture: AP

It is unclear whether she was a relative of the American military veterans or part of the Coulson team.

Britton Coulson and Foster Coulson were also escorted through Sydney International Airport yesterday after arriving on an Air Canada flight from Vancouver. Britton and Foster are co-presidents of the Coulson Group, which their grandfather started in 1960.

The brothers were met at the airport by US Consul General Sharon Hudson-Dean and RFS deputy state operations controller Ben Millington about midday.

ATSB investigators retrieve the cockpit voice recorder from the crash site. Picture: NSW Police / ATSB
ATSB investigators retrieve the cockpit voice recorder from the crash site. Picture: NSW Police / ATSB

Armed with the full maintenance history of the aircraft, Coulson will help investigators as they try to piece together what sent the water bombing aircraft to the ground this week.

The bodies of the three Americans, all military veterans with extensive flying experience, were removed from the crash site on Friday night.

Coulson has described the three airmen as "fallen heroes" and said the deaths would be "deeply felt by all" in the aviation industry and emergency service sector.

Florida father-of-two Mr DeMorgan, 43, spent 18 years in the US Air Force as a flight engineer on C-130s with extensive combat experience.

A distraught women is escorted by Coulson Aviation officials at Sydney International Airport today following the death of three American firefighters. Picture: AAP
A distraught women is escorted by Coulson Aviation officials at Sydney International Airport today following the death of three American firefighters. Picture: AAP

His loss was "surreal", his sister said online.

"He was a beloved friend, colleague, father, son and most of all brother," Jen DeMorgan posted.

"To most the sky was the limit, to them it was home."

Former Air Force colleague Lexi Petel thanked Mr DeMorgan "for the wisdom". Coulson said Capt McBeth's love for his wife Bowdie and three children "was evident for anyone who spent time around him".

First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson.
First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson.

McBeth's father Bill said his son was a standout athlete at school who refused to let vision problems stop him from flying.

He said Ian was: "Determined, tenacious and tough. Probably the most all-around capable and competent person I ever knew."

Police and ATSB investigators at the tanker crash site in the Snowy Mountains. Source: NSW Police/ATSB
Police and ATSB investigators at the tanker crash site in the Snowy Mountains. Source: NSW Police/ATSB

Mr McBeth hopes all three of his grandchildren - Abigail, 17, Calvin, 13 and Ella, 11 - learn to fly. Abigail is already working on her licence and sometimes flew with her father, he said.

"His kids loved him dearly," Mr McBeth said.



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