The three American firefighters who died in a plane crash Thursday while helping to battle the Australian bushfires in New South Wales have been identified
According to the New York Times, the late service members included Ian H. McBeth, 44, Paul C. Hudson, 42, and Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., 43.
The three firefighters were aboard the C-130 air tanker, owned by Coulson Aviation, a privately owned company lending help to the ongoing climate disaster in Australia, the Wall Street Journal reported.
All three U.S. military veterans worked for the company, according to the Times.
McBeth, of Great Falls, Montana, was the captain of the downed aircraft. He was a father of three and had flown C-130 planes with Coulson for his entire career.
Hudson, of Buckeye, Arizona, was the first officer of the plane and had served in the Marine Corps for two decades, the Times reported. Hudson also had experience as a pilot of the C-130 aircraft.
“First Officer Paul Hudson was a hero who dedicated his life to service, first as a Marine, then as a firefighter. And when help was needed to fight wildfires in Australia, he didn’t hesitate. Arizona’s prayers go out to him & his family,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey wrote on Twitter.
DeMorgan, of Navarre, Florida, was the aircraft’s flight engineer. He served as a flight engineer on C-130 planes in the Air Force for 18 years, according to the Times. DeMorgan was also a father of two children.
“Rick’s passion was always flying and his children,” Coulson Aviation said in a statement to the Times.
In a press conference on Thursday, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons explained that initial reports found “there was a large fireball associated with the impact of the plane as it hit the ground.”
Fitzsimmons added, “all we’ve been able to do is locate the wreckage and the crash site.”
The U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia, issued a statement about the loss of life Thursday.
“The brave Americans who died near Snowy Monaro died helping Australia in its time of need,” Ambassador Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. said in the statement. “The families and friends of those who we have lost are in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you Australia for your sympathy and solidarity.”
The cause of the crash still remains unknown.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to the news on Twitter, calling it a “terrible tragedy.”
Deeply saddened to learn of the death of 3 people in the crash of a C130 fire fighting aircraft, north east of Cooma in NSW earlier today. My deepest condolences to the loved ones, friends and colleagues of those who have lost their lives. Such a terrible tragedy.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 23, 2020
“Deeply saddened to learn of the death of 3 people in the crash of a C130 fire fighting aircraft, north east of Cooma in NSW earlier today,” tweeted Morrison. “My deepest condolences to the loved ones, friends and colleagues of those who have lost their lives. Such a terrible tragedy.”
At least 30 people have died in Australia’s particularly devastating fire season so far, WSJ reported, with thousands of homes and buildings lost and billion-dollar damages expected across the affected regions.
Experts previously estimated that more than a billion animals have also died in the fires.