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Probe begins into fatal NSW firefighting plane crash

The bodies of three US firefighters who died when their water-bombing aircraft crashed in southern NSW have been recovered with authorities now focused on determining what caused the fatal incident.

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Three Americans lost their lives when the air tanker, which was battling fires in NSW, crashed in the Snowy Mountains. Source: Associated Press

The families of captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr are expected to arrive in Sydney this weekend along with the owners of the C-130 Hercules which was operated by Canadian firm Coulson Aviation.

The water tanker crashed on Thursday afternoon just after it had dropped fire retardant along a ridge at Peak View northeast of Cooma, Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Greg Hood said yesterday.

The safety bureau boss revealed the kilometre-long crash site was "complicated" because it was in an active bushfire area.

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ATSB investigators today will make the site safe by securing aviation fuel, the magnesium wheels and any unexploded oxygen bottles.

They'll then locate the plane's voice recorder and take it back to Canberra "to see what the exchanges may have been in the cockpit during those final moments", Mr Hood told reporters.

Investigators will map the site and speak with witnesses who saw the crash.

"We have upwards of 500 firefighting aircraft active across the country from about 150 companies and several different countries," Mr Hood said.

"So if there are lessons to be learned from this particular accident it's really important that Australia and the world learn them."

The death toll from NSW's unprecedented bushfire season climbed to 25 yesterday evening after the body of a 59-year-old man was found in a home on the state's South Coast.

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The Australian military is also in action, helping out with disaster relief. Source: 1 NEWS