US firefighters who died in plane crash while battling Australian bushfires 'were remarkable individuals'

The three US firefighters who died after their air tanker crashed while battling bushfires in southern NSW were "remarkable individuals" aiding Australians in their hour of need, the Rural Fire Service commissioner says.

Your playlist will load after this ad

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

Today investigators begin piecing together the events that caused the C130 water tanker to crash in the Snowy Mountains yesterday afternoon.

The plane, known as Zeus, was owned and operated by Canada-based company Coulson Aviation and contracted to the RFS.

The three firefighters - seconded to Australia from the US - died after the plane smashed into the ground 50km northeast of Cooma and exploded in a large fireball, NSW RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

The plane was located about 1.15pm on a private property at Peak View.

The three men were aged 42, 43 and 45, and Mr Fitzsimmons said they were experienced and trained in the use of the C130 tankers for firefighting.

The cause of the plane crash remains unclear.

"They were highly experienced, professional, dedicated, specially-trained operators that were dedicated to the profession of aerial firefighting and, in particular, large air tanker aerial firefighting," Mr Fitzsimmons told ABC TV.

"As we've seen here in NSW and in Australia in recent years, (it) has provided us with a capability and capacity that we historically have not had access to."

Mr Fitzsimmons labelled the C130 aircraft a "work horse of the air" which could carry 15,000 litres of water and integrate with firefighters on the ground.

US ambassador Arthur Culvahouse said he was "deeply saddened" by the news.

"The brave Americans who died near Snowy Monaro died helping Australia in its time of need," Mr Culvahouse said in a statement.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne paid tribute to the US firefighters and said she had passed on Australia's condolences to Mr Culvahouse, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison had spoken with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will travel to the crash site on Friday to start collecting evidence.

The bureau expects to complete preliminary findings within a month.

"Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant stakeholders so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken," the ATSB said.

Six firefighters battling the Clyde Mountain blaze on NSW's south coast, meanwhile, have been injured after their truck rolled near Moruya.

Three people were kept in hospital last night for monitoring but none of the six firefighters' injuries are considered serious.
Fire danger ratings are set to drop on Friday as milder weather conditions set in across NSW, and are likely to persist for an extended period.

Mr Fitzsimmons said most fire grounds across the state were under the influence of easterly winds, cooling temperatures and bringing some rain.

More than 70 fires continue to burn across NSW, with 30 uncontained.

"Whilst we will see temperatures increase a little bit over the weekend and into early next week, we are not expecting to see severe, extreme or catastrophic- type fire dangers," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

Today police said they would contact the families of the plane crash victims before they release their names to the public.