As emergency services continue to battle up to 60 bushfires across southern NSW – with at least 10 not contained – colleagues have paid tribute to the helicopter pilot who died when his chopper crashed west of Ulladulla on Friday.
Allan Tull (Tully), aged in his 50s, was photographed alongside another pilot minutes before taking off to waterbomb a massive blaze at Mount Kingiman about 2pm.
It is believed the crash happened when the water bucket became stuck in trees and pulled the 1994 Kawasaki helicopter down.
Chief pilot at Sydney Helicopters Mark Harrold issued a statement late on Friday saying Tully had a “wealth of aerial firefighting experience”.
“His aviation knowledge and skills were of the highest standard, he was regarded as one of the most experienced fire bombing pilots in the industry,” Mr Harrold said.
He said the aviation firefighting industry was very close and this “tragic loss” will be felt by those he worked alongside in other parts of the world.
The Milton Ulladulla Times newspaper interviewed Tully shortly before the fatal crash, revealing he had spent his last hour alive “helping to fight a fire in a country he didn’t even call home”.
"Little did I know he was taking off on what would be his last flight. His last hour alive, and he spent it helping to fight a fire in a country he didn’t even call home."https://t.co/yoZxbR9wOL
— MiltonUlladullaTimes (@MUTimes) August 17, 2018
A second 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.
A Sydney Helicopters employee described Mr Tull as “an amazing guy”.
“It’s a massive shock … we are absolutely devastated with the loss” he said.
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.
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.