Boeing 737 Air Tanker crashes in Western Australia while firefighting

A Coulsen Aviation Boeing 737 Large Air Tanker
Photo Credit: Coulsen Aviation

LONDON – Air tanker crash: A Boeing 737 Large Air Tanker (LAT) operated by Coulson Aviation has crashed in Western Australia whilst engaged on an aerial fighting operation in the south of the state.

According to a statement by WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES), the Boeing air tanker crashed in the vicinity of the Fitzgerald River National Park in the state of Western Australia whilst engaged on a firebombing sortie earlier today.

DFES have reported that the aircraft, a role modified Boeing 737 Fireliner had taken off from Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport in the south-west of the state at around 3:25 PM local time in response to a fire in the Fitzgerald River region.

The crash occurred at 4:15 PM local time today.

It is understood that the two pilots on board managed to extricate themselves from the crash and was subsequently airlifted to the nearby Ravensthorpe Health Service for assessment.

The Fitzgerald River National Park area is located in the state’s south coastal region, approximately 450 km south of the capital city of Perth.

Source: RadarBox

About the Boeing 737 Fireliner

The Boeing 737 Fireliner LAT only recently joined the states aerial firefighting fleet in December 2022. The aircraft became the second large attack tanker, alongside a Hercules C130.

The Commonwealth-funded National LAT is a Boeing 737 Fireliner used to fight Californian wildfires in North America and was based in WA for the high-threat summer season. 

The aircraft was secured through the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council National Resource Sharing Centre.

Photo Credit: WA State Government

The Boeing 737 Fireliner LAT – nicknamed Phoenix – weighs more than 62,000 kilograms, has a loaded cruising speed of nearly 800 kilometres per hour, and can carry 15,000 litres of fire suppressants.

It is based along with the C130 Hercules LAT at Busselton-Margaret River Airport in the South-West.

Update 1500 UTC – ATSB statement

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has now issued a statement on today’s accident, saying:

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is launching a transport safety investigation into an accident involving a 737 large air tanker (firebomber aircraft) in the Fitzgerald River National Park south of Ravensthorpe, WA on Monday afternoon.

The ATSB is assembling a team of transport safety investigators 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.

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.

The scope of the investigation and its timeframe will be determined as the ATSB builds its understanding of the nature of the accident.

Statement from Coulsen Group CEO

The Coulsen Group CEO Wayne Coulsen has also issued a statement of the accident, saying:

One of our 737 FireLiner’s, Tanker 139, operating in Western Australia, was involved in an accident while tasked to a fire on Monday, 6 February 2023.

The aircraft had two on board at the time of the accident.

Both pilots walked away from the accident, and have been medically assessed. Our thoughts and our immediate concern is for those team members and their families.

We are very grateful the two team members on Tanker 139 are safe.

We are offering all the support we can to our local and international crews. We’re also grateful for the support being provided by our firefighting and aviation industry colleagues in Western Australia.

This is a continuing story. Please check back for updates.

By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 5 Min Read
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