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US airmen remembered in touching service

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A touching memorial service has honoured the extraordinary courage of three United States airmen killed in a firefighting plane crash in southern NSW.

A touching memorial service has honoured the extraordinary courage of three United States airmen killed in a firefighting plane crash in southern NSW.

Captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr were killed when their water-bombing tanker crashed northeast of Cooma on January 23.

Devastated family and friends today attended a memorial service for the men at the Richmond RAAF base. The men's names will also be engraved on Australia's national memorial.

Captain McBeth's father, Bill, struggled to contain his grief as he addressed the memorial.

Captain Ian McBeth, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr were killed in a plane crash.

"A few minutes ago, the chaplain asked us to describe Ian in a few words. His wife Bowdie, who loved him dearly, said he was 100 per cent. A 100 per cent man," he said.

"As a father I would describe Ian as the most courageous, audacious, capable, competent and caring man that I ever knew. He had an impact on everyone whose lives he touched."

The late captain's son, Calvin, also spoke at the service, providing a poignant moment.

"Far beyond the blue horizon, there's a hangar in your sky, your home for weary pilots, whose spirits never die," he said.

US Air Force Attache Lieutenant Colonel Drew Cunnar said Mr DeMorgan would often say "when you hear our engines, we've got your back".

"I think that probably holds true also that the fire, when they heard the engines, they knew that that Rick had our backs," Lt Col Cunnar said.

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As well as describing his bravery, Lt Col Cunnar said Mr DeMorgan had a mischievous side.

"He sent me a video of him driving on the wrong side of the road playing the Crocodile Dundee theme song," he said.

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Coulson Aviation owner Wayne Coulson said words were inadequate when talking about the tragedy.

"No matter where they are, the family members are going through an incredibly difficult time and their loss is hard to bear," he said.

"Everyone has a story to tell about them - their bravery, their spirit, their camaraderie, their sense of humour."

Wildlife that survived the bushfire in Wollemi National Park in Sydney graze for food, Sunday, November 17, 2019.  (AAP Image/Jeremy Piper

The trio were posthumously awarded a commissioner's commendation for service by the NSW Rural Fire Service.

RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the NSW bushfire crisis would have been worse if not for their remarkable individual contributions.

"It's been a truly traumatic season in NSW," he said.

"Without dwelling on the enormity of loss, what I do need to say is that loss would've been considerably worse if not for the thousands of men and women on the front line, and these special aviators that look after them from above."

Mr Fitzsimmons said Mr Hudson was a humble man and an absolute professional, while Mr DeMorgan Jr was a committed and studious aviator.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said earlier today she was "heartbroken" for the men's families.

"It's appropriate today that we hold that memorial in honour of those three brave men who left their own nations, came to fight in NSW to save the lives and property of others," she told reporters.

"The tragic accident, the loss of their lives demonstrated the risks that all of our firefighters put themselves in front of every single day."

Family members of the three men visited the crash site at Peak View on Wednesday.

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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau on the weekend began downloading data from the plane's cockpit voice recorder.

Investigators have been interviewing witnesses in Cooma and using a drone to produce a three-dimensional map of the wreckage.

With AAP

Source: 9News

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