ABC North West Qld

By Julia AndréLarissa Waterson, and Tobi Loftus

All three members of an aerial firefighting crew have died after a firefighting aircraft crashed on Saturday afternoon near Cloncurry, in north-west Queensland. 

Emergency services were called to the site of the crash near the Eloise Copper Mine, about 70 kilometres south of Cloncurry, by a member of the public just after 2:30pm.

Police from Mount Isa and a rescue helicopter were initially sent to the crash site, which police said was in difficult terrain.

Officers made it to the site at about 5pm and confirmed the three firefighters onboard the aircraft were dead, with a Queensland Ambulance Service spokesperson describing the crash as “unsurvivable”.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) issued a statement offering their deepest condolences to the families of those onboard, and confirming the aircraft had been contracted to support the Queensland bushfire response.

It was redeploying from Toowoomba to Mount Isa to conduct line scans, or infra-red mapping, when it crashed.

It is believed those onboard were mapping areas of recent bushfire activity in western Queensland and gathering vital terrain data for use during bushfire emergencies.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Fire and Emergency Services Minister Mark Ryan released a joint statement expressing their sadness at the tragic accident.

“I am terribly saddened by what has happened,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“The crew on board this aircraft have been doing everything they could to protect Queenslanders.

“I send my heartfelt condolences to the many people who have been impacted by this shocking incident.”

Mr Ryan said the tragedy would hit firefighting teams hard.

“So many of them know each other, work together, dedicate themselves to the same goal to keep everyone safe,” he said.

“To lose a team of their own will be especially hard.

“My heartfelt sympathies go to everyone who is hurting right now, the families, the friends, and the colleagues of the crew who have lost their lives.”

Opposition Leader David Crisafulli also expressed his sorrow at the news, writing on X that “tonight our emergency services family is hurting”.

“I know Queenslanders will join me in sending thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by this tragedy,” he said.

The Australian Transport and Safety Bureau said a team from Brisbane was preparing to be dispatched to the site.

“Over the coming days, investigators will conduct a range of evidence-gathering activities on site including site mapping, wreckage examination, and recovery of any aircraft components for further examination at the ARSB’s technical facilities in Canberra,” it said.

The investigation will be aided by the QFES and the QPS Forensic Crash Unit on behalf of the state coroner.

Superintendent Tom Armitt of the Mount Isa Police District said investigations were still in their earliest stages.

“Police are responding from Cloncurry and Julia Creek to enable our disaster victim identification unit and our forensic crash unit to access the site,” he said.

Plane was same model as Large Aerial Tanker’s lead

Flight tracking data from FlightRadar 24 showed a Gulfstream Aerospace Jetprop Commander aircraft took off from the Toowoomba Aerodrome at 10:54am.

It travelled north-west towards Mount Isa, before disappearing off the radar at the site of the crash just after 2:30pm.

It is the same model as one that leads the Large Aerial Tanker (LAT) firefighting plane, and the QFES confirmed the LAT and its lead plane would be grounded as a precaution.

The plane is registered to and operated by Agair Logistics, a Victorian company that operates firefighting aircraft, as well as aircraft for agriculture and mapping purposes.

Region affected by bushfires

Dangerous bushfires threatened the Mount Isa region in late October when firefighters struggled to contain three major blazes, all of which had since been brought under control.

In the Barkly region, near the Queensland-Northern Territory border, at least 3 million hectares of land had been destroyed by fires.

The QFES offered “its deepest condolences to the families of the three people who tragically lost their lives” in the crash on Saturday.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families at this time,” a spokesperson said.

“Side by side we have been fighting these bushfires and their loss is felt by all.”