A Turbo Commander “Bird Dog” under contract with the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services crashed in Australia on Saturday afternoon, November 4 and it’s being called a possible structural failure at high altitude. Flight tracking data from FlightRadar24 indicated that a Gulfstream Aerospace Jetprop Commander had departed from the Toowoomba Aerodrome at 10:54 a.m.
The twin-engine Commander was the same type that’s used as a lead plane for large airtankers on bushfires. Commanders have a bit of history of structural failure, even though more frequent inspections and modifications have attempted to address structural issues.
The Australian Associated Press reported that AGAIR, an aviation company out of Victoria, confirmed that one of its planes had crashed while engaged in fire surveillance in remote northwest Queensland and killed three of its “dearly loved” staff.
The crash occurred near the Eloise Copper Mine northwest of McKinlay.
“They’d observed a plane go down, and then they observed a plume of smoke,” Superintendent Tom Armitt told journalists during a briefing on Sunday. He said the plane was completely destroyed by fire.
AGAIR has a fleet of fire bombers and the company’s chief executive Rob Boschen confirmed that the Turbo Commander was engaged in fire surveillance operations. “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.
The Independent reported that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the incident had occurred while firefighters and support teams were working to control bushfires throughout the state. “I am terribly saddened by what has happened,” Ms. Palaszczuk said. “The crew onboard this aircraft have been doing everything they could to protect Queenslanders, and I send my heartfelt condolences to the many people who have been impacted by this shocking incident.”
The Aviation Safety Network posted a report that a Gulfstream 695A Commander owned by Agair Logistics with three persons onboard crashed southeast of Cloncurry, resulting in three fatalities. The Commander took off from Toowoomba Airport and was headed toward the Mount Isa Airport. Birddog 370 crashed about 70km southeast of Cloncurry, Queensland.
Purpose of the flight was for mapping recent bushfire activity in western Queensland. The Commander was cruising at about 28,000 feet when it started a rapid and out-of-control descent, and according to official reports the aircraft at one point had an average rate of descent of ~9,600 ft/min.
Deputy Commissioner Mike Wassing with Queensland Fire & Emergency Services said that other firefighting aircraft had been grounded as part of standard practice after an incident, but he said this was not limiting the ability to deal with the 52 fires still burning across the state. “The aviation community is in mourning,” he said. “And part of that aviation community includes our own personnel from the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, as well as the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and right down into Victoria.”
A Sydney Morning Herald report said AGAIR is based in the regional town of Stawell in western Victoria, and the company was “utterly devastated” by the incident. Company executives said they will provide full assistance and support to all authorities in the course of the investigations. The Herald has a news report online: