Three US residents have died in a firefighting aircraft crash in Australia, authorities have said.
Officials lost contact with the water-bombing plane and its crew shortly before 13:30 local time (02:30 GMT) on Thursday.
The cause of the crash in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales (NSW) is not yet known.
More than 80 blazes are raging across the state following a return of hot and windy conditions.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the plane had crashed in an active fire zone two hours south of Australia’s capital, Canberra.
“Today, again demonstrates the fire season is far from over,” she told reporters.
“Our thoughts and prayers and heartfelt condolences go to their families.”
The three crew members have not been identified but officials said they were US residents.
The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) said the experienced and “well known” crew had been contracted to Australia to help fight the bushfires this season.
“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 into firefighting,” said NSWRFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
The Hercules C-130 water-bombing aircraft had been leased from North American firm Coulson Aviation as part of seasonal arrangement.
All large air tanker aircraft operations had been suspended for the rest of the day pending investigation into the crash, Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“It was operating as it routinely does with water bombing activities…there is no indication at this stage of what’s caused the accident.”
The C-130 Hercules
- Owned by Canadian aerial fire-fighting company Coulson Aviation, which operates in Australia
- The company was founded 30 years ago and claims “over 110,000 safe flight hours”
- The plane can carry 15,000 litres of water or fire retardant
- Usual top speed of 400mph with a range of 2,000 miles
- They have been used by US and UK forces since the 1950s
- They are regarded as the “workhorse” of the US fleet and usually carry troops or equipment
Australia fires: US crew dead in firefighting plane crash}