Nation mourns three US air tanker crew killed in crash as they fought fires

Ben Morgan
Raw grief: Renee Salway placing a photo on her husband Patrick's coffin: Getty Images

Firefighters held a minute’s silence and flags were flown at half-mast today as the country mourned the three US crew who died in an air crash while fighting the devastating bushfires.

The tributes came as the victims were named as Captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr.

They had been deployed by Canadian firm Coulson Aviation to combat the fires raging since September.

The cause of yesterday’s crash remain a mystery as investigations were hampered by ongoing fires near the town of Cooma in New South Wales.

Officials said there was “nothing to suggest there was a systemic fault” with the aircraft.

Captain Ian H. McBeth, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr (REUTERS)

The three died when the C-130 air tanker crashed while on a mission to dump water and fire retardant onto the bushfires.

Father-of-three Mr McBeth, from Great Falls, Montana, was described by his company as a “highly-qualified and respected C-130 pilot with many years of fighting fire” in the military and in the private sector.

Mr Hudson, from Buckeye, Arizona, had previously served for two decades in the Marine Corps, including as a C-130 pilot.

He is survived by his wife, Noreen. Mr DeMorgan Jr, from Navarre, Florida, had spent 18 years in the US Air Force as a C-130 flight engineer.

His passions had been “always flying and his children”, Lucas and Logan, the company said.

The bushfire crisis began in September and has claimed the lives of 33 people and more than one billion animals.

Its human cost was also felt today in the New South Wales town of Cobargo, where almost 2,000 mourners attended the funerals of father and son Robert, 63, and Patrick Salway, 29, who died while protecting their 600-acre farm on New Year’s Eve.

Patrick’s wife Renee laid a flower and photograph on her husband’s coffin. She described him as “life-loving, fun, outgoing Patrick,” adding: “You filled our lives with laughter and adventure.”

Tragedy: a flag flying at half mast today on Sydney Harbour Bridge in honour (AP)

The fires are contributing to one of the biggest annual rises in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since records began at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, in 1958, according to a report today from Britain’s Met Office released.

They estimate that around two per cent of this year’s rise in the greenhouse gas can be attributed to the fires.

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