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Pilots survive after converted airliner crashes on firefighting mission

The wreckage of the Boeing 737-3 lies on a road in remote countryside in Western Australia (DFES via AP)
Associated Press Reporters

Two pilots walked away with minor injuries after a Boeing 737 jet converted for firefighting crashed in Australia, officials said on Tuesday.

The twin-engine tanker owned by Canadian-based Coulson Aviation crashed in the Fitzgerald River National Park in southern Western Australia state while fighting wildfires on Monday.

Both pilots received only minor injuries even though the plane was engulfed in flames and smoke upon impact, Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said.

“It’s nothing short of miraculous that they were able to walk away from that plane,” Mr Dawson told reporters.

The men, believed to be Canadian citizens, were released from a hospital on Tuesday, the Australian Associated Press reported.

Three American aviators died when a C-130 Hercules tanker, a four-propeller plane also owned by Coulson Aviation, crashed in the east coast state of New South Wales while fighting wildfires in January 2020.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the nation’s crash investigator, said Monday’s crash was the first serious accident involving a Boeing 737 in Australia.

The plane crashed shortly after dumping its load of water with additives in turbulent conditions. Coulson Aviation is sending executives to Sydney.

Crash investigator Angus Mitchell said it was too early to suggest any link between the two Coulson Aviation crashes or wider implications for Boeing 737 passenger aircraft.

“This is fairly common that air tankers are converted from other uses,” Mr Mitchell said.

“In terms of a large aircraft like this coming down, it’s generally never one thing that goes wrong, it’s quite often a succession of things,” Mitchell added.

The plane had taken off from an airport 300 miles away. It was the plane’s second retardant drop on an out-of-control wildfire near the coastal town of Hopetoun.