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ATSB releases C-130 air tanker accident preliminary report

February 28, 2020 (by Asif Shamim) - The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released their preliminary report on the crash of the Coulson Aviation EC-130Q, registered N134CG which was contracted to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service to support airdrops of fire retardant for the local bush fires.

The tail of EC-130 #N134CG which crashed on Thursday lies amid debris in southern NSW. [Photo credit NSW Police]

The aircraft was tasked to drop retardant on the ‘Adaminaby Complex’ bush fire, but was unable to complete and was diverted to a secondary location called the 'Good Good' fire. Video leading up to the accident show the aircraft making several circuits before dropping retardant. The drop was conducted on a heading of about 190°, at about 200 ft above ground level, with a drop time of approximately 2 seconds. The crew released about 1,200 US gallons (4,500 L) of fire retardant during the pass.

Following the retardant drop, the aircraft was observed to bank left, before becoming obscured by smoke after about 5 seconds. A further 15 seconds after this, was seen flying at a very low height above the ground, in a left-wing down attitude. Shortly after at about 13:16, the aircraft collided with terrain and a post-impact fuel-fed fire ensued. The three crew members were fatally injured, and the aircraft was destroyed.

The accident site was located on slightly sloping, partially wooded terrain, about 50km north-east of the Cooma-Snowy Mountains Airport.

The ATSB’s on-site examination of the wreckage, damage to the surrounding vegetation, and ground markings indicated that the aircraft initially impacted a tree in a left-wing down attitude, before colliding with the ground. The post-impact fuel-fed fire destroyed the aircraft. The examination also found that an emergency dump of the fire retardant had not been activated.

The investigation is continuing and will include consideration of the recovered aircraft components & maintenance history. Further eyewitness reports to be reviewed & tracking & audio data from the recovered onboard systems.

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Additional images:

Flight path of EC-130Q #N134CG (white on the date of the accident. ]Source - Google Earth, Aireon and RFS tracking data, annotated by the ATSB]

Overview of the drop zone (red fire retardant) and accident location of EC-130Q #N134CG. [Source ATSB]

Aircraft impact and wreckage of EC-130Q #N134CG. [Source ATSB]