A helicopter crash near Ulladulla on the NSW South Coast is the second fatal accident involving a firefighting aircraft in the area within five years.
Sydney Helicopters pilot Allan Tull died when his chopper crashed west of Ulladulla about 2pm on Friday while waterbombing the massive Mount Kingiman blaze.
A firefighting pilot crashed in similar circumstances nearly five years ago when his waterbombing plane went down while battling a blaze not far from the scene of Friday’s crash.
David Black, 43, was killed when his Dromader plane crashed in the Budawang National Park, 40km west of Ulladulla, in October 2013.
Mr Tull was regarded as one of the most experienced in his field, according to his employer.
Friday’s crash appears to have been caused when the water bucket became stuck in trees and pulled the 1994 Kawasaki helicopter down.
A Sydney Helicopters employee described Mr Tull as “an amazing guy”.
“It’s a massive shock … we are absolutely devastated with the loss” the employee told AAP.
The company’s Chief Pilot Mark Harrold said Mr Tull’s loss would be felt by all in the industry.
“Tully had a wealth of aerial firefighting experience and his aviation knowledge and skills were of the highest standard,” he said in a statement.
“He will be sadly missed and our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.”
The helicopter is a 1994 Kawasaki BK117 which has been registered to Sydney Helicopters since May 2015.
“Every year we supply aircraft to the NSW and ACT Fire Agencies as well as the National Aerial Firefighting Centre to assist with the combat of bushfires in NSW and interstate when required,” the company states on its website.
Significant resources from emergency services including a rescue helicopter were dispatched to the area of the crash, a NSW Police spokesman said.
It’s understood nearby naval base HMAS Albatross also provided assistance.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will dispatch staff to undertake a full investigation, the agency said in a statement.
They will examine pieces of the wreckage and undertake interviews to piece together what went wrong.
“The pilot put his life on the line to protect and keep our community safe and he has paid the ultimate price,” local MP Shelley Hancock said.
After Friday’s crash the RFS grounded all aircraft fighting the Mount Kingiman bushfire.
“This is a tragic event and my deepest sympathies are with the pilot’s family and friends,” Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant said in a statement.