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Pilots safe after B.C. air tanker crashes in Australia

Tanker 139, a converted Boeing 737 aircraft, crashed in February with a two-person crew on board. (Coulson Aviation) Tanker 139, a converted Boeing 737 aircraft, crashed in February with a two-person crew on board. (Coulson Aviation)
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Two pilots are safe after a large air tanker owned by a Vancouver Island company crashed while battling wildfires in western Australia.

A statement from aircraft owner Coulson Aviation, based in Port Alberni, B.C., says the converted Boeing 737 aircraft went down Monday with a two-person crew on board.

"Both pilots walked away from the accident, and have been medically assessed," CEO Wayne Coulson said in the statement on the company's website.

"Our thoughts and our immediate concern is for those team members and their families," he added. "We are very grateful the two team members on Tanker 139 are safe."

The aircraft went down around 4:15 p.m. local time while responding to a wildfire in Fitzgerald River National Park, according to a statement from Australia's Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

"The two occupants removed themselves from the aircraft," the emergency services department said.

"Both were retrieved from the crash site by helicopter and taken to Ravensthorpe Airport, where they were then transferred to a local medical facility." 

Tanker 139 is one of the newest aircraft in Coulson Aviation's fleet of six "Fireliner" tankers created from modified commercial passenger jets.

On Jan. 17, the company announced Tanker 139 would be based in Sydney, New South Wales, after Coulson was awarded a two-year firefighting contract from the Australian government.

"Coulson is proud to provide our state-of-the-art aircraft to the federal Australian government," Coulson Aviation Australia CEO Britt Coulson said in a statement last month.

"This aircraft is an incredibly efficient bomber and the crews that operate each of our aircraft are second to none."

The latest crash comes three years after a Coulson air tanker crashed in Australia, killing all three American crewmembers.

The converted C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft was carrying a load of fire retardant on a bombing mission when it went down in the Snowy Manaro region of New South Wales on Jan. 23, 2020.

An investigation by the Australian Transportation Safety Board (ATSB) found the aircraft's left wing clipped a tree before the plane hit the ground and erupted into a catastrophic fuel fire.

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