The New South Wales Bushfires Coronial Inquiry has heard the pilot in charge of a large air tanker that crashed in the Snowy Mountains while fighting bushfires in 2020 was on his last flight before retirement.
American aviation firefighters Ian McBeth, Paul Hudson and Rick De Morgan Jr were killed on January 23, 2020 at about 1:15pm, after dropping a partial load of fire retardant on the Good Good fire.
Counsel assisting Adam Casselden told the inquest that Mr McBeth, who was the pilot on board, had accrued more than 4,000 hours of flight time and had completed almost 1,000 air tanker drops while fighting fires.
“A foundation established in his name describes him as an individual who loves adventure,” Mr Casselden said in the opening submissions in the inquest into Mr McBeth’s death.
Co-pilot Paul Hudson and aircraft engineer Rick De Morgan Jr were experienced with the aircraft, but it was their first season fighting fires in the large air tanker.
Family members of the three men have flown from the US to attend the inquest.
Clear and uncontentious’
Today the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) provided the inquest with a detailed analysis of its report – released last year – into the cause of the incident.
The inquest heard that on the morning of the crash the Rural Fire Service state operations centre had tasked the C-130 to conduct retardant drops at Adaminaby.
Senior transport safety investigator Laura Henwood said the RFS continued the C-130’s deployment to Adaminaby despite an awareness of the extreme environmental conditions and the fact that all other fire control aircraft were not operating in the area at the time.
“They relied on the pilot in command to assess the appropriateness of the tasking without providing them with all available information to make an informed decision on flight safety,” she said.
Ms Henwood said Coulson Aviation, the operator of the aircraft, failed to provide an adequate pre-flight risk assessment.
The crew elected not to drop retardant at Adaminaby due to adverse conditions and diverted to the nearby Good Good fire at about 12:45pm.
After assessing the area, the crew did a partial drop at 1:12pm.
Video footage taken by nearby RFS volunteers showed the plane climbing back to higher altitude, but then tilting sideways and crashing less than 30 seconds later.
“Their plane began to climb after the drop, but was subjected to wind shear and increased tailwind, resulting in the drop of air speed,” Ms Henwood said.
Mr Casselden said no parties disputed this assessment of the technical cause of the crash.
“The manner of death [is] clear and uncontentious,” he said.
“None of the parties take issue with the ATSB findings of the technical cause of crash.”
An inquest into the deaths of the three crew is being heard as part of the inquiry this week.
The coroner has the power to recommend legal action be taken as a result of findings in the inquest.