Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Officials have identified three U.S. firefighters who died this week while fighting escalating wildfires in Australia.
The three were on a C-130 Hercules air tanker that crashed in New South Wales. They were identified as Ian H. McBeth of Great Falls, Mont.; Paul Clyde Hudson of Buckeye, Ariz.; and Rick DeMorgan Jr. of Navarre, Fla.
McBeth, 44, was a C-130 pilot who'd served in the Wyoming and Montana Air National Guard. Hudson, 42, spent 20 years in the Marine Corps as a C-130 pilot and DeMorgan, 43, was an Air Force veteran and C-130 flight engineer.
Officials said the tanker, operating by Coulson Aviation, was on a "firebombing" mission carrying fire retardant on Thursday when it went down. Authorities are not yet sure of the cause.
"We have the incredible job of fighting fires around the world and we take pride in this responsibility," Coulson said in a statement. "Our hearts are with the crew's family and friends and our Coulson Family suffering in the loss of these three remarkable and well-respected crew-members."
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had used the plane to help Australian crews fight numerous fires. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service contracted with Coulson Aviation for the aid.
Nearly 200 U.S. firefighters are in Australia aiding fire crews. By Friday, more than 70 fires were still burning across the Australian landscape.