Fire is preventing rescuers recovering the body of a pilot killed fighting the NSW bushfires as the small community of Trangie mourns the loss of the husband and father.
Police say it is too dangerous for rescue crews to retrieve the body of the 43-year-old man, who became the second casualty of the NSW bushfires when his plane crashed on Thursday as he was trying to put out a blaze in bushland in the state’s south.
Narromine Shire mayor Bill McAnally said the Trangie community had been floored by news of the pilot’s death.
“It is a terrible tragedy. He was a great bloke, a great asset to the community,” he told AAP.
The pilot, from Rebel Ag, was responding to several blazes in the Budawang National Park when his fixed-wing waterbomber crashed in remote bushland west of Ulladulla.
“It is a dangerous game. I just hope that fire wasn’t deliberately lit,” Mr McAnally said.
Flight instructor Barry Hanchard, of Narromine Ultralights, which operates in the next town over from Trangie, said the man would be very badly missed.
“He was well liked. He lived for flying,” he said.
“He would have devoted his whole life until they took his licence from him. Firefighting and aerial crop spraying – that was his life. There’s a lot of sad people in the two towns.”
Police confirmed the death after helicopter crews winched personnel down to the crash site in what was hoped might be a rescue mission.
But flames and fierce winds in the rugged bushland forced them to retreat before they could retrieve his body.
Superintendent Joe Cassar from Shoalhaven Local Area Command said rescuers tried their best in the most difficult of circumstances.
“It is far too dangerous to send any personnel down there to retrieve the pilot,” Supt Cassar told reporters in Nowra.
Supt Cassar could not confirm reports one of the plane’s wings was torn off, but said the crash was believed to have sparked another smaller fire.
He said everyone would be thinking about the pilot’s family.
“It’s not only tough for the individual’s colleagues, it’s tough for everybody involved in this firefighting operation,” Supt Cassar said.
“That is the nature of the business, and the risks that are associated with this sort of response.”
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the death would affect firefighters as well as the man’s family.
“It’s a tragedy for the fire fighting community, but first and foremost it’s a tragedy for this man’s family,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“He’s a husband with young children and we’re all acutely aware that there’s a family suffering today because their dad didn’t come home.”
Premier Barry O’Farrell offered his condolences to the family and friends, saying his death highlights the danger all emergency personnel and volunteers face every day while protecting the community.
“They put themselves in danger on our behalf and we are all truly grateful,” he said in a statement.
“This loss will be a particular blow to the brave men and women who have worked so hard saving property and protecting lives during this crisis.”