RFS under fire from critics after fatal 2020 plane crash

The ATSB has slammed the NSW Rural Fire Service for a fatal accident during the 2020 bushfires. -AP

The NSW Rural Fire Service has faced criticism from Australia’s aviation watchdog following an investigation into a firefighting plane crash that killed three Americans during the bushfires in the BlackSummer.

Ian McBeth, Paul Hudson and Rick DeMorgan came to Australia to fight devastating bushfires and died when their large air tanker crashed on January 23, 2020.

“All three were away from home, helping to defend lives and property during Australia’s worst fire season on record,” Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) chief commissioner Angus said on Monday. Mitchell.

The increasing reliance on large air tankers to fight fires made it important to understand the circumstances of the crash, he said.

The ATSB report into the accident in the Snowy Mountains region of NSW was given to the families of the crew ahead of its release on Monday.

He said the RFS sent the plane to an area with adverse conditions, without aerial surveillance, and relied on the pilot to assess the risk without providing all the necessary information.

The ATSB said other pilots refused to fly in the area, but the crew of the large Lockheed EC-130Q tanker that crashed were most likely unaware of those decisions.

“While this is only one of several risk factors that would be considered by the crew when accepting a task, having this information would have enabled them to make a decision. more enlightened,” the report said.

Mr Mitchell said the crew of a Boeing 737 who had decided not to return to the area had spoken with those of the C-130, but they had not received all the information they needed, and the RFS was probably unaware of their conversation.

Investigators were unaware of the content of the cockpit conversations due to a lack of usable audio from the cockpit voice recorder.

The weather was dangerous, with gusty winds exacerbated by the fires and the local terrain.

The crew felt the conditions were unsuitable for their original task and were sent about 58 kilometers to the east, where conditions were much the same.

The ATSB found the plane likely stalled as it climbed after dropping fire retardant on the Good Good Firing Range near Peak View, north of Cooma.

The RFS and the aircraft operator share responsibility for risk mitigation in firefighting operations, which necessarily take place in a high-risk environment, the ATSB said.

The RFS had limited policies and procedures for tankers and their supervision, and no procedures for deployment without supervision.

There was also no policy for handling task rejections or for communicating them internally or to other crews.

The RFS informed the ATSB that it would commission airspace management reports, establish an air tanker coordinator, verify the records of qualified pilots, and revise its safety doctrine, among other measures.

However, the bureau said the RFS had not yet committed to adopting security measures that would reduce the risks associated with the issues identified in its report.

He recommended that the agency address its lack of policies on aerial oversight and communication of task rejections.

RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said the agency would implement the relevant recommendations.

“Work is already underway to put systems and processes in place, including improving pilot notifications,” Rogers said.

“Major policy changes will be implemented ahead of the next bushfire season,” he said.

Coulson Aviation, the Canadian company contracted to operate the tanker for the RFS, has in response improved its risk assessments and procedures and training for pilots dealing with wind shear, the ATSB said.