All three crew aboard a Coulson Aviation USA C-130 waterbomber were killed Wednesday afternoon when their aircraft crashed in the Snowy Monaro Area in southern New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The 1981 Lockheed EC-130Q, N134CG, had been in Australia since August under contract to the Rural Fire Service.
Coulson said the aircraft had departed Richmond NSW with a load of retardant. Radar data indicated the aircraft went down near Cooma. According to Coulson, “The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities. The accident response team has been activated as well as local emergency services, and Coulson Aviation will be sending a team to the site to assist in emergency operations. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the three crewmembers onboard.” Coulson stood down its other C-130s in Australia for safety inspections.
Coulson Aviation (USA) Inc. was founded in 1990 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Canada’s Coulson Aircrane Ltd. From 1990 to 1993 Coulson Aviation provided personnel for heli-logging operations in Alaska. Subsequently, it purchased C-130 aircraft for firefighting in the U.S. and Australia.
The use of C-130s for firefighting operations drew scrutiny after a series of crashes attributed to wing box failures dating back to at least 1982. The most spectacular of these was caught on video in 2002 when the wings of a C-130A separated in flight and the wingless aircraft rolled inverted during a waterbombing mission near Walker, California.
As a result, the U.S. Department of Interior temporarily banned their use for aerial firefighting. That ban was lifted following adoption of a new FAA-approved inspection regime for the aircraft. However, the past August the USAF temporarily grounded 123 of its C-130s after discovering cracks in the lower center wing joint of an aircraft undergoing scheduled maintenance. The block of grounded aircraft all had more than 15,000 hours total time in service and had not received extended-life center wingboxes.