Three US firefighters who died when their air tanker crashed while battling blazes in Australia have been identified.
Captain Ian McBeth, 45, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 43, and flight engineer Rick A DeMorgan Jr, 44, were killed in New South Wales on Thursday.
The cause of the C-130 Hercules crash is not yet known.
New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian called it an “unbelievable loss” and offered a state memorial.
Officials lost contact with the plane, owned by Canadian firefighting company Coulson Aviation, shortly before 13:30 local time (02:30 GMT).
It crashed in an active fire zone in the Snowy Mountains, south of Canberra, said the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Since September, Australia has battled a bushfire crisis which has now killed at least 33 people. More than 70 bushfires are still raging across NSW alone.
Who were the victims?
Mr Fitzsimmons said the experienced and “well known” crew had been contracted to Australia to help fight the unprecedented bushfires this season.
Mr McBeth, from Great Falls in Montana, was a “highly qualified and respected C-130 pilot with many years of fighting fire” in the military and privately, Coulson Aviation said.
His love for his wife Bowdie and children Abigail, Calvin and Ella was “evident for anyone who spent time around him”, it added.
Mr Hudson, from Buckeye in Arizona, had previously served for two decades in the US Marine Corps, including as a C-130 pilot. He is survived by his wife, Noreen.
Mr DeMorgan Jr, from Navarre in 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, Coulson Aviation said.
What’s been the reaction?
Mr Fitzsimmons said on Thursday: “[The plane] was operating as it routinely does with water bombing activities…there is no indication at this stage of what’s caused the accident.”
The state government ordered flags to be flown at half-mast on Friday, in tribute to the three men.
The RFS tweeted that other North American firefighters in Australia had held a minute’s silence.
In another fire-hit state, Victoria, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) tweeted its thanks to US firefighters who had just arrived on deployment.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy, and offered his condolences to the men’s families.
Fires in southern Australia are expected to peak in February and continue into April.
- Owned by Canadian aerial fire-fighting company Coulson Aviation, which operates in Australia
- The company was founded 30 years ago and claims “over 110,000 safe flight hours”
- The plane can carry 15,000 litres of water or fire retardant
- Usual top speed of 400mph with a range of 2,000 miles
- They have been used by armed forces across the globe since the 1950s
- They are regarded as the “workhorse” of the US fleet and usually carry troops or equipment