Three people from a flight charter company have died after a light plane crashed while assisting firefighters battling bushfires in outback Queensland.
At about 2.30pm on Saturday, authorities were alerted of an incident involving a Turbo Commander Aircraft in McKinlay, about 104km southeast of Cloncurry.
The three-person crew board the plane were assisting the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) in a fire mapping surveillance operation during the crash.
AGAIR’s chief executive Rob Noschen confirmed three who died were members of his staff
“Authorities have confirmed three of our valued, and dearly loved staff were the only occupants of the aircraft, and there were no survivors,” he said.
“We are utterly devastated, and our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the families of our staff.
“AGAIR will provide full assistance and support to all authorities in the course of their investigations.”
The company specialises in providing aerial agricultural, wildlife suppression and firefighting flight charters, and is based in Stawell in regional Victoria.
After initial reports of the crash, police said it deployed a Rescue 400 helicopter to the wreckage will ground crews navigated “difficult terrain” to reach the site.
The plane disappeared off the flight radar between Mt Isa and Cloncurry after departing Toowoomba earlier in the day.
On Saturday night, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services confirmed it had contracted the AGIR to undertake fire mapping, and paid tribute to the three people on board.
“Our hearts are heavy following the fatal plane crash this afternoon in north west Queensland and the tragic loss of three people supporting our bushfire response,” QFES posted on social media.
“During natural disasters in Queensland, we respond as a family.
“That family includes those contracted to support our aerial operations.
“Side-by-side we have been fighting these bushfires as one and their loss is felt by all. Our thoughts and prayers are with their family, friends and those who worked alongside them, including our Air Operations personnel.”
Investigations into the incident are ongoing. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) will carry out a transport safety investigation, while the Forensic Crash Union will investigate the incident on behalf of the State Coroner.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was “terribly saddened” to hear about the tragedy.
“The crew on board this aircraft have been doing everything they could to protect Queenslanders,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“I send my heartfelt condolences to the many people who have been impacted by this shocking incident.”
Queensland’s Fire and Emergency Services minister Mark Ryan said the tragedy would hit the aerial firefighting teams hard.
“For weeks now the teams in the air supporting the firefighting efforts have been working together to keep Queenslanders safe,“ Mr Ryan said.
“So many of them know each other, work together, dedicate themselves to the same goal, to keep everyone safe.
“To lose a team of their own will be especially hard.
“My heartfelt sympathies go to everyone who is hurting right now, the families, the friends, and the colleagues of the crew who have lost their lives.”