YREKA, Calif. — Officials with the Klamath National Forest in Siskiyou County are mourning the loss of a familiar firefighting crew after a plane operated by Coulson Aviation crashed in Australia on Thursday, killing all three men on-board. The Coulson company is based in Portland.
Coulson Aviation Tanker 134 crashed while headed out to battle the devastating bushfires in the Australian state of New South Wales. The Lockheed C-130 Hercules had been in use as a firefighting aircraft for years, and its one with which the local U.S. Forest Service staff were well acquainted.
Credit: Coulson Aviation / Facebook
"Tanker 134 was utilized multiple times on and around the Klamath National Forest during 2019," said Ashley Dooley, aircraft dispatcher for the Yreka Interagency Command Center.
"During the Lime Fire in September of last year, T-134 painted the sky pink along the California-Oregon border. I personally monitored them on an aviation activity computer screen, tracking their every move and diverting them to priority fires over the radio," Dooley continued. "It was and is always a privilege to work with these C-130 crews, knowing their extensive aviation background knowledge both in fire and military operations."
Coulson identified the three fallen crew members on Thursday. 44-year-old Captain Ian H. McBeth of Great Falls, Montana, 42-year-old First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson of Buckeye, Arizona, and 43-year-old Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr. of Navarre, Florida all served in the U.S. military before joining the Coulson Aviation firefighting family.
"Whether the wildfire is eight miles away or 8,000 miles away, the loss of T-134 is a stark reminder of how dangerous firefighting is," said Patty Grantham, supervisor for the Klamath National Forest. "We ask a great deal of our ground and aviation fire resources, and we always need to keep in mind no mission is simple or risk-free when it comes to wildfire. On behalf of myself, my family and the greater Klamath National Forest family, my hear goes out to the families and friends of the crew of T-134. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the crew of T-134 for their service."
According to Coulson, T-134 departed Richmond in the Snowy Monaro Area of southern New South Wales on Wednesday when the company lost contact. The plane was full of retardant headed out on a firebombing mission.
"At Coulson Aviation, we have the incredible job of fighting fires around the world and we take pride in this responsibility," the company said. "Right now our hearts are with the crew's family and friends and our Coulson Family suffering in the loss of these three remarkable and well-respected crewmembers."