Coulson C-130 airtanker crashes in Australia

Sad news came from Australia on Jan. 23, when North America awoke to a report from Coulson Aviation that one of its C-130 large airtankers had crashed, killing its three American crew members.

Dan Himbrechts/AAP Photo
The C-130 airtanker was on a firebombing mission in the Snowy Monaro Area in southern New South Wales, Australia, when the accident occurred. Dan Himbrechts/AAP Photo
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Coulson said the firefighting aircraft had been working on Jan. 22 in the Snowy Monaro Area in southern New South Wales (NSW) when contact was lost. The plane — registration N134CG — had taken off from Richmond, NSW, with a load of retardant and was enroute to a drop point when the incident occurred.

Coulson Aviation, a division of Port Alberni, B.C.-based Coulson Group, is fighting fires in Australia under contract to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS). As of Jan. 17, RFS aircraft had flown over 600 missions in support of ground-based firefighters in what has been a devastating fire season.

The company reported that an accident response team had been mobilized and it would also be sending in a team to assist.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the three crew members onboard,” said Coulson’s statement.

Ken Swartz Photo
Coulson outfits its C-130 airtankers with its own RADS-XXL 4,000-U.S. gallon tank. Coulson Aviation Photo

The four-engine turboprop C-130 was originally designed by Lockheed Martin as a military transport platform, but Coulson acquired its first aircraft in 2013 for conversion into an airtanker. Since then, the company has continued to purchase C-130s for conversion, most recently acquiring five ex-military C-130H aircraft from Norway in November 2019. The aircraft is able to land and take off from unpaved runways and is a versatile weapon in the company’s aerial firefighting arsenal. It is equipped with a Coulson RADS-XXL 4,000-U.S. gallon tank.

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Speaking of the accident at a news conference on Jan. 23, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, “It demonstrates the dangerous work currently being undertaken, and it also demonstrates the conditions our firefighters are working under. There are in excess of 70 aircraft that have been used today alone; and today is a stark and horrible reminder of the dangerous conditions that our volunteers and emergency services personnel across a number of agencies undertake on a daily basis.”

Coulson has reportedly grounded its other firefighting aircraft pending investigation results.

As of midnight Australian time (8 a.m. EST Jan. 23), the NSW RFS reported on Twitter that there were 73 bush and grass fires actively burning, with 30 not yet contained. Conditions were expected to ease on Friday following cooler weather.

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