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Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, has issued the following statement in response to the Jan. 23, 2020, crash of a firefighting aircraft in New South Wales, Australia.

“Shortly before 1:30 p.m. – local Australian time – on Jan. 23, 2020, Australian wildfire officials lost contact with a C-130 airtanker operated by B.C.-based Coulson Aviation, which was assisting with firefighting activities in the Snowy Monaro area of New South Wales.

“On board were three American citizens, who did not survive the crash. No Canadian personnel were on the aircraft.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of everyone involved in this incident. On behalf of all British Columbians, I extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the flight crew and to the staff of Coulson Aviation.

“The international firefighting community has rallied this year to help Australia during its catastrophic fire season. So far, 45 BC Wildfire Service staff have been deployed to Australia as part of the contingent of 172 Canadian firefighting personnel.

“We will continue to respond to requests for assistance from our Australian friends during their extremely challenging fire season.”

A spokesman for Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority said that the aircraft went into a valley to drop the retardant and didn’t come out.

Fitzsimmons said the plane had been leased by Canadian aerial firefighting company Coulson Aviation, which had a second C-130 Hercules working in the Australian bushfires operation.

Fitzsimmons said Coulson had grounded its large air tanker fleet following the accident, pending a review to ensure there was no systemic issue like a fuel problem.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it was sending a team of investigators to the crash site to collect evidence and would analyze available recorded data, review weather information and interview any witnesses.

It said a preliminary report would be released in about 30 days but if a critical safety issue was identified during the course of the investigation it would immediately notify the relevant stakeholders.

Coulson said the plane was on a firebombing mission and was carrying a load of retardant. The company said it will send a team to the crash site to assist in the emergency operations.

“The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities,” the company said in a brief emailed statement.