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Memorial to be held for U.S. men who died battling Australian wildfires

A memorial service will be held for three members of a U.S. aircrew who died when their plane crashed as they fought huge wildfires in Australia, their employer has said in a statement.

Capt. Ian H. McBeth of Great Falls, Montana, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson of Buckeye, Arizona, and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr. of Navarre, Florida, died Thursday while dumping fire retardant from their C-130 Hercules tanker on an out-of-control blaze in the Snowy Monaro area of southern New South Wales.

Their bodies were retrieved Saturday as their grieving families arrived in Sydney, Australian officials said.

The government of the New South Wales will arrange the memorial, according to their employer Coulson Aviation (USA) Inc.

The company’s CEO, Wayne Coulson, said in a statement that the “outpouring of heartfelt grief” for the three men who “were known around the world for their skill” is “very much appreciated and deeply felt in this time of loss”.

Coulson added that it was working with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and New South Wales Police to understand the cause of the crash.

However, changing fire conditions around the accident’s location have limited investigators’ abilities to conduct site mapping.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) technical personnel said in a statement that they had had secured the cockpit voice recorder for analysis over the coming days.

Investigators have also begun the process of interviewing witnesses and gathering aircraft, flight tracking and meteorological data for analysis, it added.

Conditions permitting, transport safety Investigators anticipate returning to site on Monday to resume site mapping, including with the use of the ATSB’s 3D mapping remotely piloted aircraft.

“Today’s fire conditions illustrate the complexities of this accident investigation, however ATSB investigators are taking a measured and methodical approach to gathering information without exposing themselves to undue risks and hazards,” said ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood.

As of Saturday, 57 bush and grass fires burning in New South Wales, 23 of which were yet to be contained as of early Saturday, New South Wales Rural Fire Service said on Twitter.

However, fire conditions have eased in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, three of the states burned badly in the blazes, with severe storms expected to bring heavy rainfall to some firegrounds over the weekend, meteorologists said.