SPRINGWOOD: A water-bombing aircraft tackling newly flaring wildfires in Australia crashed on Thursday, killing the pilot, as the military apologized for starting a huge blaze that has left residents living in fear.
Thousands of largely volunteer firefighters have been battling infernos for eight days across the state of New South Wales that have destroyed more than 200 homes, with the Blue Mountains region west of Sydney the focal point.
Cooler weather initially helped on Thursday, but gusty winds saw two major blazes upgraded to the highest “emergency” level again, with authorities urging communities not to be complacent.
A pilot become the second person to die in the bushfire emergency when his fixed-wing aircraft went down in a remote area south of Sydney as it responded to a blaze near the town of Ulladulla.
Reports said a wing snapped off before the crash.
“It’s a tragedy for the firefighting community, but first and foremost it’s a tragedy for this man’s family,” said NSW Rural Fire Service chief Shane Fitzsimmons, who lost his own father in a bushfire in 2000.
An ambulance officer was winched into the rugged terrain where the crash happened and confirmed David Black, 43, was dead. He was unable to recover the body due to fires still burning in the area.
One of the biggest and fiercest infernos still alight—which has a perimeter of more than 300 kilometers and has ripped through 47,000 hectares of land—was started by the military, a fire service investigation found.
The huge blaze near the town of Lithgow, which flared again on Thursday, was a major worry this week with authorities on Tuesday deciding to deliberately merge it with another nearby fire at Mount Victoria to prevent conditions from deteriorating.
The official investigation found it was started by exploding ordnance on a live firing range on Wednesday last week.
“It wasn’t deliberate, it was a side-effect of a routine activity . . . and clearly there was no intention to see fire start up and run as a result of that activity,” Fitzsimmons said, adding that the military had fully cooperated.
Acting Chief of Defense, Air Marshall Mark Binskin, apologized after a furious Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill demanded answers.