A pilot has been killed after the fixed-wing aircraft he was flying as part of the NSW firefighting effort crashed near Ulladulla. It brings the number of deaths from NSW’s worst bushfire crisis in decades to two after a 63-year-old man suffered a heart attack while defending his home from flames last week.
The 43-year-old from Trangie, in central NSW, is believed to have been flying the fixed-wing AT-802 plane, which was waterbombing a fire in the Budawang national park west of Ulladulla on the south coast.
Authorities took hours to reach the site which was deep in rugged terrain. Rescue workers were winched down from a helicopter but were unable to retrieve the body in the strong winds.
“It is far too dangerous to send any personnel down there to retrieve the pilot,” said Shoalhaven local area commander superintendent Joe Cassar.
The crash also sparked another fire in the area, which other aerial firefighters immediately responded to and continue to fight.
The man, who was contracted to the RFS during this bushfire crisis but is not believed to have been a member, leaves behind a wife and children.
In a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, RFS NSW commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the death was a tragedy for the firefighting community.
“But first and foremost it’s a tragedy for this young man’s family … We’re all acutely aware that there is a family suffering today because their dad hasn’t come home,” he said. “Without a doubt our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones who are spending time with RFS officers on the south coast and trying to come to grips with this.”
Greens leader Christine Milne expressed her condolences. “I am deeply saddened to hear of the tragic accident that has claimed the life of a pilot as he was fighting fires,” she said. “All of our thoughts go to the family and friends.”
The first casualty of the NSW bushfire disaster was Walter Linder, 63, who collapsed after suffering a heart attack while defending his Lake Munmorah home from fires on Friday.
The fire emergency is by no means over. There are still 63 fires burning around the state, 23 of them uncontained. There were six serious fires burning, including four “watch and act” advisories and two emergency warnings for the State Mine fire near Lithgow, believed to have been started by wayward explosive ordnance training conducted by the Australian army, and the nearby Mt Victoria fire.
At least one new fire was started by lightning on Thursday afternoon. The fire at Putty in the Hawkesbury region was burning “aggressively towards the coast” and “we are simply not in a position to attempt to contain that fire”, said Fitzsimmons.
Extreme weather on Wednesday did not have the devastating effect on fires that authorities were worried about, namely due to aggressive backburning and other firefighting strategies undertaken by the RFS.
Hundreds of residents in the Blue Mountains evacuated but most had returned home by the evening.
Two new fires began in the Hunter region at Minmi and Gateshead on Wednesday, both of which reached emergency warning alert level. But no more homes were lost on a day that was feared to become as bad as last Thursday, when more than 200 homes were completely destroyed and 122 were damaged.
The most devastation occurred in the Springwood area, where 193 houses were destroyed and 109 were damaged.