America mourns killed firefighters

The three US firefighters who died in an air tanker crash while battling bushfires in southern NSW.
The three US firefighters who died in an air tanker crash while battling bushfires in southern NSW.

Friends, family, military members, US congressmen and governors have offered "heartbroken" tributes to the three American firefighters killed when their C-130 air tanker crashed in southern NSW.

Americans woke up on Thursday with the news that pilot Lieutenant Colonel Ian McBeth, first officer Lt Col Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr had died near Cooma in southern NSW.

The three men, former members of the US military who survived tours of war zones across the globe, used their flying expertise to fight fires for Oregon-based Coulson Aviation.

Lt Col McBeth, 44 of Great Falls, Montana, leaves behind his wife Bowdie and three children.

He was a member of the Montana Air National Guard's 120th Airlift Wing and served tours of Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It is with a heavy heart that I inform you we lost a valued Airmen and friend last night," 120th Airlift Wing commander Colonel Buel Dickson wrote in a heartfelt tweet.

"In performing his civilian duties as an air tanker pilot, fighting wildfires in Australia, Lt Col Ian Mcbeth's plane went down."

Col Dickson said Lt Col McBeth was instrumental in the flying success of the 120th Airlift Wing and will be dearly missed.

US Senator Jon Tester, in Washington DC for US President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, said he was devastated to learn of Lt Col McBeth's death.

Another Montana senator, Steve Daines, said Lt Col McBeth "passed in service to others, and that's something that will never be forgotten".

Flags at the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix were lowered to half-staff in honour of Lt Col Hudson, 42 of Buckeye, Arizona.

Lt Col Hudson is survived by his wife Noreen.

He graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1999 and served in the Marine Corps for 20 years, including as a C-130 pilot.

"Arizona is heartbroken by this news," Arizona Governor Doug Ducey tweeted.

"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."

Flight engineer DeMorgan Jr, 43, of Navarre, Florida, is survived by his two children Lucas and Logan.

He served 18 years in the US Air Force as a flight engineer on C-130s clocking up more than 4,000 hours in the air, including 2,000 hours in a combat environment.

Family members are expected to fly to Sydney this weekend will be able to visit the crash site if they wish.

The plane crashed just after it had dropped fire retardant along a ridge.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating what caused the crash.

Australian Associated Press