U.S. firefighters killed in plane crash while battling Australia fires are identified

The three men who died in the crash in Australia were identified as residents of Montana, Arizona and Florida.
Captain Ian H. McBeth, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr.
Captain Ian H. McBeth, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr.Courtesy of Coulson Aviation

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By Phil Helsel

The three U.S. firefighters killed in a plane crash while battling Australia's wildfires were residents of Montana, Arizona and Florida.

Capt. Ian H. McBeth of Great Falls, Montana; First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson of Buckeye, Arizona; and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr. of Navarre, Florida, died when their C-130 Hercules air tanker went down Thursday in the state of New South Wales, said the plane's operator, Coulson Aviation, a private U.S. company contracted by the Rural Fire Service.

The plane left Richmond with a load of retardant for a "firebombing mission," officials have said.

The plane had previously been used to train members of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, a major agency that deals with wildfires.

"We extend our sincere condolences to the families of the crew, their friends and loved ones, and our own CAL FIRE family who worked, fought fires, and trained with the crew of Tanker 134," California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

McBeth, 44, was a highly qualified C-130 pilot who had a wife and three children, Coulson Aviation said. He also served with the Wyoming Air National Guard and was a member of the Montana Air National Guard.

Hudson, 42, is survived by his wife. He served 20 years in the Marine Corps, during which he was a C-130 pilot, the company said.

DeMorgan, 43, who had two children, served with the Air Force and had 18 years as a C-130 flight engineer, according to the company.

"At Coulson Aviation, we have the incredible job of fighting fires around the world and we take pride in this responsibility," the company said in a statement. "Right now, our hearts are with the crew's family and friends and our Coulson Family suffering in the loss of these three remarkable and well-respected crewmembers."

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New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian ordered flags flown at half-staff, saying a state memorial will be Feb. 23.

The men were battling the devastating brush fires that have killed more than 30 people and destroyed more than 2,500 homes in Australia. Eight of those killed have been firefighters, Reuters reported. U.S. and other crews have also been deployed to help.

The Rural Fire Service said Friday that crews from the United States and Canada who are wrapping up their deployments observed a period of silence to honor those killed in the crash.

Newsom and Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said in a joint statement that the plane "was instrumental in 2019 as part of the aviation resources used to battle the devastating wildfires across California, including the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, which was the largest wildfire in our state last year."

The Kincade Fire, which broke out Oct. 23, destroyed more than 370 structures, including homes, according to Cal Fire. Four people were injured in the fire, which burned more than 77,700 acres — about 121 square miles. The cause of the fire, which was extinguished Nov. 6, is under investigation.

As of early Friday, 73 brush fires were burning in New South Wales, 30 of which had not been contained, the Rural Fire Service said. None of the fires was at an emergency warning level. Cooler temperatures and light rain helped ease conditions, according to the fire service.

There are 175 U.S. firefighters and support personnel deployed to Australia, a spokesperson for Australia's Home Affairs Department said.