Two pilots walked away from an airtanker crash on Monday while fighting bushfires in Western Australia. Initial reports indicate that Coulson’s 737 took off from Busselton about 3:25 p.m. and went down about 4:40 p.m. in Fitzgerald River National Park, about 460 kilometres southeast of Perth. According to news.com.au the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) detected an emergency beacon activation from the airtanker approximately 185 kilometres west of Esperance. The agency issued a statement saying there were no other crew aboard the airtanker when it crashed. Both pilots were transported by helicopter to Ravensthorpe Health Service, and ABC.net.au news reported that the pilots were not seriously injured. The Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) are conducting separate investigations into the crash.
The Alberni Valley News (in British Columbia, where Coulson is based) reported the investigators will interview pilots and then examine the wreck. “Initially, investigators will seek to interview the pilots and witnesses to understand the circumstances of the accident, and determine the accessibility of the accident site with the aim of conducting an on-site examination of the aircraft wreckage,” said the ATSB in a statement.
This is the second incident for Coulson Aviation during firefighting operations in Australia, after a C-130 heavy airtanker crashed in 2020, killing all three on board.
Tanker 139 — the 737 — had just been awarded a contract last month. This flight was the airtanker’s third drop of the day.
A news report by aerotime.aero said the 737 flew for more than 40 minutes before it crashed in the Fitzgerald River National Park. According to flightradar24.com, its last recorded altitude was 675 feet (205.7 meters) at 4:13 local time (UTC +8). A report by samchui.com indicated the ATSB was assembling a team from its Perth and Canberra offices with experience in aircraft operations and maintenance, human factors, and data recovery to conduct the evidence-collection phase of the investigation.
This airtanker is a Coulson Flying Tankers 737-300 Fireliner registered as N619SW. The 737 was delivered new to Southwest Airlines in 1995 and was acquired by Coulson in 2019. It entered firefighting service in the U.S. after conversion in summer 2022, and it flew to Australia in December 2022.