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Firefighters who died in Australia were on California-based tanker

Posted at 3:08 PM, Jan 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-23 21:16:25-05

(KGTV and AP) -- California's governor says the three American flight crew members who died when their aerial water tanker crashed while battling wildfires in southeastern Australia were part of a crew on a California-based tanker. 10News also learned that the same plane that crashed was stationed in Ramona last August.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, in a statement on Thursday, did not identify the crew members but called them heroes.

The premier of Australia's New South Wales state confirmed the crash deaths in the Snowy Monaro region as Australia attempts to deal with an unprecedented fire season that has left a large swath of destruction.

Canada-based Coulson Aviation says one of its Lockheed large air tankers was lost after it left Richmond in New South Wales with retardant for a firebombing mission. In a press release, Coulson Aviation identified the crew members as Capt. Ian H. McBeth, 44, of Great Falls, Mont.; First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42, of Buckeye, Ariz.; and First Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan, Jr., 43, of Navarre, Fla.

When CAL FIRE's Thomas Shoots heard about the fiery crash in Australia, he said he felt a gut punch.

"Whether it's out in Australia or here in California, it really hits home," Shoots said.

When Shoots found out it was the exact plane that was stationed in Ramona last August, he said it added to the devastation.

"We brought them on with the plane and the crew, to get our pilots trained up so that we are ready to make a smooth transition to the Calfire C-130s starting next year," Shoots said.

In mid-2021, CAL FIRE San Diego is slated to get its own C-130 aircraft added to their fire fighting arsenal. Its larger frame has a 4,000-gallon load, as opposed to current ones that can drop 1,200 gallons at a time.

But before it gets here, CAL FIRE contracted with Coulson Aviation, to train its aviators. In the one month Coulson was in San Diego County, Shoots said they not only taught their personnel but also flew over and fought active fires.

"They did an excellent job. The pilots with Coulson are bar none, and they were really a huge resource for us."

Australian officials have not released the names of the fallen American firefighters. But they do say they are highly experienced, and they have a long-standing relationship with the company.

"Our hearts are with all those that are suffering what is the loss of three remarkable, well-respected crew, that have invested so many decades of their life in fire fighting and fire management," NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons said.

CAL FIRE San Diego does not know if the same crew that trained their firefighters were the ones who died in Australia. Either way, they said this is a heavy loss.