A plane helping battle wildfires in Australia crashed in New South Wales state Thursday, killing three U.S. residents, officials said.

The C-130 firefighting aircraft, which officials said was from Coulson Aviation, a private company contracted by the Royal Fire Service, crashed in the Snowy Monaro area. The Royal Fire Service lost contact with the air tanker around 1:30 p.m.

“It’s crashed, and there was a large fireball associated with that crash,” Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

“Unfortunately, all we’ve been able to do is locate the wreckage and the crash site, and we have not been able to locate any survivors,” he said.

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Coulson Aviation (USA) Inc. of Portland, Oregon, confirmed the three deaths in a statement, saying it lost contact with one of its large air tankers in the Snowy Monaro region in southern New South Wales.

It said an accident response team had been activated.

The C-130 left Richmond in New South Wales with a load of retardant and was on a “firebombing mission,” the company said.

“Our thoughts and prayers and with the families of the three crew members aboard,” said the statement, attributed to The Coulson Family.

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New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian expressed her “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the crew.

Australia is battling massive brush fires that have killed dozens of people and destroyed more than 2,500 homes.

Also Thursday, Canberra Airport closed because of nearby wildfires, and residents south of Australia’s capital were told to seek shelter.

The blaze started Wednesday, but strong winds and high temperatures caused conditions in Canberra to deteriorate. A second fire near the airport that started Thursday morning is at the “watch and act” level.

source: nbcnews.com

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