1 of 3 | Three firefighters are dead after a small plane crashed while responding to a bushfire in Queensland, Australia, on Saturday, officials confirmed in a statement. Photo courtesy of Government of Western Australia
Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Three firefighters are dead after a small plane crashed while responding to a bushfire in Queensland, Australia, on Saturday, officials confirmed in a statement.
The trio had departed the city of Toowoomba in southern Queensland when their Gulfstream Aerospace Jetprop Commander aircraft disappeared from local radar around 2:30 p.m. AEST.
The three firefighters have not been publicly identified and were the only people aboard the aircraft at the time of the crash, officials said.
A rescue helicopter later located the crash site near a mine in a rural area of the state, and police confirmed all on board had died.
"Terribly sad that three brave souls working to help their fellow Australians have lost their lives in Queensland," Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote on a social media post.
"A tragic reminder of the dangers those on the front line of bushfires face. Heartfelt condolences to their loved ones and colleagues in this time of grief."
The crew was on the way to the northern Queensland city of Mount Isa when it crashed. The firefighters were reportedly set to start conducting scans, or infra-red mapping.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is now investigating what caused the crash and is interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence. The ATSB also made a public appeal for any video people may have taken of the aircraft before it crashed.
Similar firefighting aircraft have been grounded as a precaution.
The high-wing, pressurized, twin-engine turboprop aircraft acts as a scout plane for larger water tankers, identifying targets during aerial firefighting.
Australia is in the midst of a near-record wildfire season as the country moves into its hot, dry season.
"Our hearts are heavy following the fatal plane crash this afternoon in northwest Queensland and the tragic loss of three people supporting our bushfire response. During natural disasters in Queensland, we respond as a family," the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services wrote in a statement on Facebook.
"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," the agency wrote.