The men have been identified as Captain Ian McBeth, 44; first officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42; and flight engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., 43, Coulson Aviation said in a statement.
From left to right: Captain Ian H. McBeth, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., who died in an air tanker crash while battling bushfires in Australia. AAP Image supplied by Coulson Aviation via Reuters
Coulson Aviation said McBeth, who lived in Great Falls, Montana, was a "highly qualified and respected C-130 pilot with many years of fighting fire" in the military and privately. His love for his family was "evident for anyone who spent time around him." He is survived by his wife Bowdie and three children, Abigail, Calvin and Ella.
Hudson had served in the U.S. Marine Corps for two decades, including as a C-130 pilot. He was from Buckeye, Arizona, and is survived by his wife, Noreen.
DeMorgan spent 18 years in the U.S. Air Force as a C-130 flight engineer. Coulson Aviation said he was from Navarre, Florida and that his passions were "always flying and his children," Lucas and Logan.
The three were in a C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker, dropping fire retardant to help out out the blaze in New South Wales. The plane went down the mountainous Snowy Monaro region, not far from Australia's capital, Canberra. The cause of the crash is still unknown.
Undated photo released by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service shows a C-130 Hercules water tanker nicknamed "Thor" dropping water during a flight in Australia. HOGP / AP
"Not long after the aircraft had discharged the retardant the aircraft impacted terrain, killing the three on-board," said Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Greg Hood, who added that it was too early to speculate on the cause of the crash. Investigators have scoured the area in the remote bushland.
On Friday, firefighters in Australia held a minute of silence for the three U.S. firefighters and flags on official buildings in New South Wales were flown at half-staff as a mark of respect.
The U.S. firefighters were a well-known and experienced crew contracted to help fight the bushfires in Australia this season. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian called it an "unbelievable loss," according to the BBC. More than 100 American firefighters have been helping out in the country in recent weeks.