Air tanker in Australian crash once staged in Sacramento County

California Connection
Data pix.

MCCLELLAN PARK, Calif. (KTXL) -- The air tanker that crashed and killed three Americans Thursday during a firebombing mission in Australia staged at McClellan Airport in Sacramento County for more than six months in 2019.

“It’s a very tight-knit community and it really weighs heavy not only on Cal Fire but agencies across the world,” Cal Fire Deputy Director Mike Mohler told FOX40.

Mohler says the Coulson Tanker 134 dispatched to nearly every large wildland fire across California in 2019, including the Kincade Fire. With a capacity of 4,000 gallons, crews used the plane to drop flame retardant while battling wildfires.

“From Northern California to Southern California, that aircraft traveled the state battling wildfires. Being that it was the same aircraft, it just brings that connection a little bit closer to home,” said Chief Mohler.

Cal Fire also used the tanker to train its crews and prepare for the seven C-130 air tankers being added to their fleet.

“Meaning we had pilots on there with their pilots to train to be ready for our air tankers when they’re ready to fly,” Mohler said.

Australian officials are investigating what caused the crash and have yet to release the names of the victims. They have only said the victims are well-known and respected in the firefighting community.

“A number of our U.S. colleagues that are, that are embedded actually had personal relationships with them,” said Shane Fitzsimmons, the commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. “So, our hearts are with all those that are suffering.”

As Mohler waits to hear whether there’s anything Cal Fire can learn from this horrific crash he’s thinking of the people most impacted.

“Our support is with the family. I mean, it’s really a tragedy,” Mohler said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom released a statement about the crash Thursday:

This tragic accident reminds us all of the too-high cost of the scourge of wildfires, as well as the sacrifice of first responders from around the world. California and Australia, already united by the deadly threat of wildfires, now grieve this tragic loss together.

Coulson Aviation, which is based in Oregon, said they’re sending a team to help with emergency operations at the crash site.

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