Hero US firefighting pilots’ last message revealed
In one of their final messages before they crashed, three hero American firefighters who died during the Black Summer bushfire warned other pilots to not "send anybody there - we're not going back".
First Officer Paul Hudson, flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jnr and Captain Ian McBeth died on January 23 after completing a waterbombing mission on an out-of-control bushfire near the Snowy Mountains.
The Americans flew a large air tanker and were tasked with dropping retardant on the Good Good fire which burned through more than 50,000 hectares of land in January.
An interim report released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau revealed the hazardous conditions the men flew through and their final moments.
"After completing the retardant drop, the B137 crew sent a text message to the birddog pilot (a spotter pilot) assigned to the Adaminaby fireground indicating that the conditions were 'horrible down there. Don't send anybody and we're not going back'," the report said.
"They also reported to the Cooma Fire Control Command that the conditions were unsuitable for firebombing operations."
It also found there was not a distress call before the crash.
The plane dropped retardant on the out-of-control blaze at 1.15pm before trying to fly upwards. Witnesses said it was obscured by smoke after the dump but it began to rise.
As it rolled towards its right, it dropped in altitude and gained speed. Two RFS firefighters said they saw the plane begin to descend.
It hit the ground at about 280km/h and created a fuel-fed fire which led to the emergence of another bushfire.
The report also revealed there was "no appreciable change in the centre of gravity following a retardant drop" and that the internal voice recorder in the plane did not work on its final flight.
The Americans worked for Coulson Aviation and had been brought to Australia to help battle the worst bushfire season on record.
All three men had lengthy histories of working in aviation.
Captain McBeth, 44, was a highly qualified pilot who had previously served with the Wyoming and Montana Air National Guard. He left behind a wife and three children.
Both flight engineer DeMorgan, 43, and First Officer Hudson, 42, had lengthy careers in the US military.
The men were praised for their sacrifice by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and US Vice President Mike Pence.
The ATSB will continue its investigation into the crash.
Originally published as Hero US firefighting pilots' last message revealed