More information has become available about the C-130 crash in Australia

Investigators have recovered the cockpit voice recorder

C-130 crash site NSW
NSW police and a military aircraft near the site of the C-130 crash near Cooma, NSW. Photo: NSW Police.

Australian media outlets have published aerial photos of the site where Air Tanker 134, an EC-130Q, crashed in western New South Wales January 23, 2020. In some respects the site looks similar to those taken after the 2012 crash of the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) C-130 aircraft. The sections of the aircraft that received the least damage were the tails.

The 2012 accident occurred on the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota and resulted in four fatalities among the seven-person crew. Two crewmen in the rear of the aircraft were injured but survived. Those two were operating the pressurized Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) in the cargo hold which enables a military C-130 to function as an air tanker, capable of dropping up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. On a C-130 with a conventional gravity-powered retardant delivery system, all three crewmen are in the cockpit.

I will not force anyone to look at the crash scene photos, but if you feel up to it you can find them at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) here and here. Reuters also has decent coverage. Most of the photos were taken by a drone operated by the Army. They are using the aircraft to map the site.

The information that has come out so far indicates that the crash occurred following a retardant drop. The drop could have been planned, or the retardant might have been jettisoned if the aircraft was suddenly in a dangerous position.

Investigators with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) have found the cockpit voice recorder in the tail of the plane and hope to analyze it by Sunday.

NSW police said they have recovered the bodies of the three crew members that were killed, Ian H. McBeth, Captain, Paul Clyde Hudson, First Officer, and Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., Flight Engineer. They will be repatriated to the United States as soon as possible.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jim and Bean. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

An overview of the C-130 incident in Australia

From L-R, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, Captain Ian H. McBeth, Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr. Coulson Aviation photo.

A video has been posted on YouTube by “blancolirio”, who frequently makes aviation-related videos. In the 15-minute piece he analyzes from afar the January 23, 2020 crash of Air Tanker 134, the Coulson Aviation EC-130Q in which Paul Hudson, Ian McBeth, and Rick DeMorgan Jr. were killed.

Keep in mind it will be months before the investigators release a report and the cause of the crash has not been determined.

This incident and the loss of these three men has had a severe impact on the small air tanker community.

Coulson has two C-130 air tankers (the other is T-131). The loss of T-134 drops that number to one. They also operate several Type 1 helicopters, a recently converted Boeing 737, and have four other 737s and five more C-130s with plans to convert them into air tankers in the future.

Rest In Peace

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

New air tanker base to be constructed in Colorado Springs

It is expected to open in 2021

Tanker 944, a 747-400
Tanker 944, a 747-400, at the Colorado Springs airport, May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The City of Colorado Springs and the US Forest Service are going to build a new permanent air tanker base at the Colorado Springs Airport.

On January 24, the Forest Service signed a lease agreement with the Colorado Springs Airport. The two agencies will share the costs for construction and maintenance, currently budgeted at approximately $20 million.

“This project is a perfect example of how we can work within all levels of government to promote shared stewardship,” said Forest Service Acting Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien.

The one-and-a-half-acre base will create six reload pits for any type of contracted air tanker, including Very Large Air Tankers such as the DC-10 and 747. It will be the largest base in the region, with the ability to serve a 600-mile radius — including Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. The base will have the ability to reload multiple airtankers at once. This will allow an increased amount of retardant to be sent to a wildfire faster and with greater efficiency. It will also help the firefighters on the ground and protect communities from the approaching threat of wildfire. By being able to service aircraft of all sizes and capabilities, the base will also reduce the total number of flights needed to fight a wildfire in the area, reducing the risk to additional flight crews and other regions.

The new eight-acre ramp to be built will be near the airport’s main 13,500-foot runway and adjacent to the U.S. Army-operated ramp. During the winter months when the Forest Service is not using it, the airport will use it as a de-icing area for commercial aircraft.

The Forest Service has occasionally set up a temporary retardant base at the Colorado Springs Airport that had two pits and parking for six aircraft. The only permanent base in Colorado for large air tankers has been JEFFCO at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near Denver. It has two pits but can fill only one air tanker at a time and can’t handle Very Large Air Tankers.

Vanessa Lacayo, the Acting Press Officer for the Forest Service  Rocky Mountain Region, said the agency has no plans to close any other bases, including Single Engine Air Tanker Bases, after opening this new facility at Colorado Springs.

The Air Force Reserve base at Colorado Springs airport can activate two C-130 aircraft to serve as air tankers if needed, using the slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System, or MAFFS.

The headquarters for Global Supertanker is in Colorado Springs and their 747 Supertanker is sometimes parked at the airport.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new base is scheduled for spring 2020. Construction is set to begin this summer, with completion and a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2021.

Congress awarded the Forest Service funding for the project as part of the 2018 Omnibus Bill that repurposed previous allocations to the agency’s Aviation Safety and Modernization Strategy. The Department of Agriculture prioritized the Colorado Springs Airtanker Base as one of the highest investments for Aviation Safety Modernization Projects, representing nearly one-fourth of the $37.2 million budget. The City of Colorado Springs is providing additional funding through a partnership agreement.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Robby. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

C-130 crash victims identified

Air Tanker 134 crashed in New South Wales January 23, 2020

Rest In PeaceThe three crew members who perished January 23 in the crash of the C-130 in Australia have been identified.

  • Ian H. McBeth, Captain
  • Paul Clyde Hudson, First Officer
  • Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., Flight Engineer

May they rest in peace.

Below is information released by Coulson Aviation, January 23, 2020.

C-130Q crash victims Australia

C-130Q crash victims Australia

The history of Tanker 134

The aircraft crashed January 22 in Australia, killing the three members of the crew

Coulson's L-130Q
Coulson’s C-130Q which later became Tanker 134. Coulson photo, April 2017.

As this is written the names of the three crew members that perished in the crash of Coulson’s Tanker 134 have not been released. While we are waiting on that, here is some information about the aircraft itself. (UPDATE: the three men have been identified)

It is an EC-130Q, one of only 12 that were manufactured. The model began as strategic communications links for the U.S. Navy Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine force and as a backup communications link for the U. S. Air Force manned strategic bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile forces. They are similar to the C-130H, but the 12 “Q” models were outfitted with complex electronics systems, including a six-mile long trailing wire antenna, for communicating with submarines and bombers. Some of them still have the remains of a vent in front of the main landing gear for cooling the winch that was used to reel in the long antenna.

air tanker 134 C-130Q
C-130Q that later became T-134, on the way to a makeover May, 2017. Coulson photo.

Tanker 134 (N134CG, Serial #382-4904) was manufactured in 1981. Coulson began converting it into an air tanker in early 2017. At that time it looked like it was far from what it later became.

By August of 2018 it was essentially complete, but still had not been painted. During the 2018/2019 bushfire season it was in Australia on its first firefighting contract. Its first drop on a wildfire occurred around November 1, 2018 a few kilometers away from NASA’s Deep Space Network of satellite antennas near Canberra, Australia.

c-130q tanker 134
Air tanker 134 dropping on a fire near NASA’s Deep Space Network of satellite antennas near Canberra, Australia. The first drop by T-134 on a live fire was on this fire.
t-134 c-130Q
Air tanker 134 seen on the first live fire it dropped on, in Australia, around November 1 , 2018.

It continued to serve throughout the bushfire season and by April, 2019 it received new livery after migrating back to the U.S.

Tanker 134 at Medford, Oregon
Tanker 134 at Medford, Oregon July 27, 2019. Photo by Tim Crippin.

During the 2019 fire season in the United States T-134 was on a contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It was seen across the state that summer, and for a while operated out of Ramona, an airport with a relatively short runway that presents a challenge for some large air tankers.

Air Tanker 134 C-130 Ramona
Air Tanker 134, a C-130Q, parked at Ramona Air Attack Base August 3 2019. Photo by K. E. Pack Photography.

In August November or December, 2019 it began working in Australia again.

Air tanker crash in Australia kills three crew members

It was working on a fire in New South Wales

Rest In Peace

Tanker 134
Tanker 134 as it started a new contract with CAL FIRE. Coulson photo, April 11, 2019.

Updated at 6:01 a.m. PST January 23, 2020 (US time)

A C-130Q air tanker (N134CG) crashed in southern New South Wales Thursday January 23 (Australia time). All three members of the crew perished.

Coulson Aviation released a statement saying their aircraft, Tanker 134, had departed from Richmond NSW on a firebombing mission and went down in the Snowy Monaro area. There were three fatalities.

(UPDATE: the three men have been identified)

Tanker 134 had been working on a contract in Australia since August, 2019.

Tanker 134 (N134CG)
The last flight path of Tanker 134 (N134CG) recorded by FlightAware, January 23, 2020 U.S. local time.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will be investigating the incident which they said occurred at Peak View near Cooma, NSW. The agency is expected to release a preliminary report within 30 days.

map crash tanker 134
The marker shows the location of Tanker 134 that was last recorded on FlightAware.
location Tanker 134 crash
This Google Earth 3-D map shows the general location of Tanker 134 last recorded by FlightAware. The map is looking north.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Coulson has grounded its entire fleet of air tankers out of respect for those who died. “Our hearts are with all those that are suffering in what is the loss of three remarkable, well-respected crew that have invested so many decades of their life into firefighting,” he said.

Cameron Price of 7NEWS Sydney reported on the incident:

Wreckage of missing RFS C-130 located by search crews. Reports only tail section intact. Aircraft has broken up on impact. Crews reporting difficult terrain and “terrible visibility”.

The Premier of New South Wales said out of respect for the crew flags would fly at half mast in the state, and:

Heartbreaking & devastating news that three US residents who were crew members operating a LAT in the Snowy Mountains region have lost their lives. Our thoughts & heartfelt condolences are with their families & the tight knit firefighting community.

The U.S. Ambassador to Australia, Arthur B. Culvahuse Jr. said:

I am deeply saddened by the tragic news we received today. The brave Americans who died near Snowy Monaro died helping Australia in its time of need. The families and friends of those who we have lost are in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you Australia for your sympathy and solidarity.

From the Canadian Interagency Fire Centre:

@CIFFC and its member agencies are deeply saddened by this tragic event. We send our condolences to our firefighting colleagues at #CoulsonAviation & @NSWRFS

Earlier the New South Wales Rural Fire Service reported that contact had been lost with a large air tanker that was working in the southern part of the state in the Snowy Monaro area.

Posted at 7:22 PST January 22, 2019 (US time)

Our sincere condolences go out to the families, friends, and coworkers of the crew.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Australian public television reports on the country’s air tanker situation

The DC-10 delayed by a tropical storm and a maintenance issue is expected to arrive in Australia the evening of January 23 local time

Greg] Mullins [former head of Fire and Rescue in New South Wales

Greg Mullins, former head of New South Wales Rural Fire Service, was interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Greg Mullins, former head of New South Wales Rural Fire Service, was interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), a public broadcasting service. Since November Mr. Mullins has been serving as a volunteer firefighter in NSW. Most of the wildland firefighters in Australia are volunteers.

The ABC video below is a fairly deep dive (for national media) into the current state of the air tanker fleet in Australia.

Only one month into the summer, Australia’s bushfire season is already one for the record books. The federal government said that as of January 14 approximately 10 million hectares (24 million acres) had burned. If the fires in the Northern Territory which had not been previously reported are included, 6.8 million hectares (16.8 million acres), that brings the total across the continent to 16.8 million hectares (40.8 million acres).

When massive wildfires are burning homes and lives are lost — 27 people have perished so far in Australia this summer — there is always pressure to deploy more firefighting air tankers. They do not put out fires, but under ideal conditions dropping thousands of gallons of water or fire retardant can slow the spread in an area which can allow firefighters on the ground to safely move in and suppress it. If firefighters are not available to quickly take advantage, the temporarily slowed fire continues to spread. Under extreme conditions, especially strong winds, air tankers can’t safely fly low and slow as they have to do, and  even if they could, the retardant can be blown away from the target.

At the beginning of the 2019-2020 bushfire season the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) planned on having five large air tankers available (including four that are leased and the government-owned 737), but added two more in November after large devastating fires began burning in New South Wales.

Then on January 4 Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said $20 million would be provided for leasing four more large air tankers as supplementary to the normal fleet for the current season only, bringing the total up to 11. Those four include two MD-87s and two DC-10s leased from Erickson Aero Tanker and 10 Tanker. The MD-87s have both arrived in the country, in spite of one of them being stuck for a while in Adak, Alaska due to an ash plume from a volcano in the Philippines developing on its anticipated route.

The two DC-10s were both in the midst of their C-Check maintenance in Mobile, Alabama when they were requested. As this is written on January 21 one of them, Tanker 912, has made it as far as Hawaii where it was grounded January 16 by a massive tropical storm along its planned route. John Gould, President of 10 Tanker, said that after being topped off with fuel and sitting on the hot tarmac, a fuel leak was discovered. The company’s fuel team is on it, Mr. Gould said. He expects the aircraft will depart from Hawaii Wednesday morning U.S. time heading toward a refueling stop at the Marshall Islands, then arriving in Australia Thursday evening local time. (UPDATE at 5:30 p.m. PDT Jan. 22, 2020. T-912 arrived in Canberra this afternoon, U.S. time.)

The next DC-10, Tanker 914, is expected to depart later this week. It will be the third DC-10 air tanker in Australia.

Australia’s Air Force assists with bushfire crisis

Their C-17A aircraft are transporting helicopters from New Zealand, retardant and spares from the U.S., and water tanks for an air tanker reload base

C-17a transports helicopter
C-17A Globemaster airplanes have transported three NH-90 helicopters from New Zealand.

The Royal Australian Air Force is providing assistance during the bushfire crisis on the continent in a number of ways:

  • A RAAF C-17A Globemaster collected the first 20-tonne load of fire retardant powder from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and delivered it to RAAF Base Richmond on January 18. It will be used to mix retardant for air tankers to slow the spread of bushfires in Australia in support of state and federal emergency authorities. A second load of retardant arrived on January 19 on an RAAF KC-30A multi-role tanker transport. A total of 117 tonnes will be delivered over four loads over the coming week as part of Operation Bushfire Assist.
  • C-17A Globemaster airplanes have transported NH-90 helicopters from New Zealand, water purification and desalination systems, and 80,000-liter and 40,000-liter water tanks for the Very Large Air Tanker reloading base. They also transported spares for the three DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers, including an engine, auxiliary power unit, and numerous tires.
  • Staged crash-rescue fire engines at helibases to support hot refueling.
  • Installed and staffed transportable air traffic control towers.
  • C-27J Spartan aircraft assisted in the evacuation of personnel from Mallacoota.
  • P-8A Poseidons conducted reconnaissance flights over fire-affected areas.
Retardant mix
Retardant mix the RAAF hauled from the U.S. to Australia.
RAAF Retardant air tanker
United States Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force personnel push a pallet of fire retardant up the ramp of an Australian C-17 Globemaster at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Photo courtesy of the United States Air Force.
C-17A water tanks
A C-17A Globemaster transported two water tanks to support a reloading base for Very Large Air Tankers.
Australia transportable Air Traffic Control tower
Transportable Air Traffic Control tower

The videos below illustrate some of the roles of the Royal Australian Air Force during the bushfire crisis.