An active bushfire status has complicated the probe into a plane crash which killed three American firefighters in the Australian state of New South Wales on Thursday (January 23).
Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigators had to be escorted to the one-kilometer-long crash site by firefighters on Friday (January 24) and police were still in the process of securing the area.
ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood said it was still too early to speculate on the cause of the crash of the C-130 Hercules tanker plane.
CHIEF COMMISSIONER OF THE AUSTRALIAN TRANSPORT SAFETY BUREAU, GREG HOOD, SAYING: "Our understanding, our early understanding at this stage is the aircraft arrived around about 1315 on-site and proceeded to drop a line of fire retardant across the ridge.
Not long after the aircraft had discharged the retardant, the aircraft impacted terrain, killing the three on board the aircraft." Ian McBeth, Paul Hudson, and Rick DeMorgan Jr were all in their 40s and had previously worked for the U.S. military, as well as extensive flight experience.
Two of them were married and left behind young children.
Firefighters in Australia held a minute's silence and flags on official buildings in New South Wales were flown at half-mast as a mark of respect on Friday.
The NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the country will never forget their sacrifice.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) NEW SOUTH WALES RURAL FIRE SERVICE COMMISSIONER SHANE FITZSIMMONS, SAYING: "Today, quite rightly, passing a moment's silence, but we will be forever indebted to the enormous contribution and, indeed, the ultimate sacrifice that's been paid as a result of these extraordinary individuals doing a remarkable job, as they have done now for years here in New South Wales." Eight firefighters have been killed in the bushfire crisis since September.
Around 250 firefighters from the United States and Canada have been deployed in the country since the start of the season.