Air tanker dropped fire retardant shortly before fatal crash: Australian safety bureau

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An air tanker that crashed in Australia on Thursday killing three U.S. firefighters dropped fire retardant shortly before the fatal accident, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said on Friday.

The C-130 Hercules tanker plane lost contact with authorities while battling blazes in the country’s alpine region, known as the Snowy Mountains, located in the country’s east.

“Not long after the aircraft had discharged the retardant the aircraft impacted terrain, killing the three on-board,” said ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood, who added that it was too early to speculate on the cause of the crash.

Air tankers typically carry 15,000 liters of water or fire retardant for release over blazes in areas that ground crews find hard to reach.

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in Sydney; Editing by Sam Holmes