Police have confirmed the death of a pilot who was undertaking water-bombing operations in rugged terrain on the New South Wales south coast this morning.
The Dromader water-bombing aircraft was fighting bushfires at Wirritin, west of Ulladulla, when it went down this morning.
The Rural Fire Service (RFS) says the pilot was killed when the plane crashed and it is believed one of the plane’s wings fell off before the aircraft plummeted to the ground.
The news of the pilot’s death comes as the acting chief of Defence apologised over the State Mine fire near Lithgow, which was sparked by a live-fire army exercise at the Marrangaroo Army Range last week.
Superintendent Joe Cassar says the pilot’s family has been informed of his death, but he will not confirm his identity and will wait for the coroner.
Rescue teams are having difficulty accessing the site.
“We now find ourselves in a position where we are trying to recover the pilot from the scene but are being challenged by weather conditions and nearby fire,” Superintendant Cassar said.
RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has described the death of the water-bombing pilot as a “huge tragedy”.
“It’s a tragedy for the fire-fighting community, of course, but first and foremost we’re acutely aware that it’s a tragedy for this young man’s family,” he said.
“He’s a husband with young children and we are all acutely aware that there’s a family suffering tonight or today because their dad hasn’t come home,” he said.
Mr Fitzsimmons says the crash itself resulted in a new fire and fellow colleagues were forced to bring the blaze under control.
“They’re continuing to work right now in dealing with that fire in and around the crash scene,” he said.
Earlier today, rescuers found the wreckage of a single-engine Cessna that went missing on a flight between Moruya in New South Wales to Mangalore in Victoria yesterday.
The pilot, who died at the scene, had been delivering parts for helicopters used in the fire-fighting efforts in New South Wales.
Defence apologises over State Mine fire
The Acting Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshall Mark Binskin, has apologised over the State Mine fire.
An RFS investigation has found explosives training at the army base started the fire last Wednesday.
Another emergency warning has since been issued for the blaze that is burning between Lithgow and Bilpin in the New South Wales Blue Mountains.
Air Marshall Binskin says there were no fire bans at the time of the blaze, which has so far burnt almost 50,000 hectares.
“It was about 23 degrees [with] light winds at the time I made the decision to [undertake explosives training],” he said.
“The fire scale was on the lower end of the scale and there wasn’t a fire ban. But when the activity occurred there was small fire that started.
“I do apologise, because it has been identified that this fire was the start of this mine fire.
“We’ll ascertain the facts as part of our own inquiry but what I do know to date is it was an explosives activity, it was a demolition activity in support of our people that train for operations around the world.”
Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill has thanked Air Marshall Binksin “from the bottom of his heart” for apologising on behalf of the Defence Force over the State Mine fire.
“That was a very appropriate step to take. He has obviously very much acknowledged community concern and let’s not play the blame game – let’s learn from this,” he said.
“A whole lot of organisations and agencies are all going to be able to shed light on the causes of these fires and we all need to be very open indeed about that and I think this is a good step.”