Three American firefighters have died while trying to extinguish the widespread bushfires in New South Wales, Australia. Their water bomber aircraft had crashed and exploded at around 1:30 p.m. AEST.

According to NBC News, the firefighters were already identified and they are Capt. Ian H. McBeth from Montana (44), Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr. from Florida (43) and First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson of Arizona (42). They were on a firebombing mission when it happened.

The three were said to have taken off from Richmond with a load of retardant in their C-130 air tanker owned by Coulson Aviation, a private American company contracted by the Rural Fire Service. Moments before their deaths, they were pouring the fire extinguishing substance on the blaze that already killed millions of animals and burned countless homes. As of this time, the exact cause of the crash is not yet known, as per The Daily Mail.

Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, expressed his sadness and offered condolences to the family and friends of the victims. “Deeply saddened to learn of the death of 3 people in the crash of a C-130 fire fighting aircraft, northeast of Cooma in NSW earlier today,” the PM tweeted on Jan. 23. “My deepest condolences to the loved ones, friends and colleagues of those who have lost their lives. Such a terrible tragedy.”

Australian bushfires
Australian bushfires BBC

Australian residents were also saddened by the news and they all agree that the three men are heroes. “So sad. They left their homes to help us and they lost their lives,” Maria Cecilia, a citizen, wrote on social media. “This is devastating. Our sincere condolences to their families, friends and colleagues.”

Shane Fitzsimmons, the commissioner of New South Wales Rural Fire Service, said the victims are experienced firefighters who were routinely sent out for waterbombing missions using the C-130 planes. In any case, following the crash, Coulson Aviation grounded its air tankers to show their respect to the fallen firefighters and as a standard precautionary measure.

The bushfires in NSW are ongoing and a number of firefighters from America and Canada have flown in to help the local firemen. In the last four weeks, the US government has sent about 100 firefighters and it is planning to send more in the coming days.

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