Critical US water bomber grounded during NSW bushfire crisis

Critical US water bomber grounded during NSW bushfire crisis

19 October 2013

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Australia — A CRUCIAL water bombing helicopter was grounded during the NSW bushfire crisis because authorities claimed it needed an American crew to operate it.

The state-of-the-art Erickson skycrane was sitting at Bankstown Airport with The Sunday Telegraph told it required special engineers and staff to get it off the ground.

But last night, in an unusual twist, the chopper was authorised to fly to Springwood, despite the absence of the US crew.

While it will now be used to assist in combatting ongoing fire hazards, the water dumper was forced to sit idle while

bushfires ravaged the state on Thursday, Friday and most of yesterday.

The craft is believed to be the same chopper, nicknamed “Ichabod”, which was flown over on a cargo plane with another helicopter – which has been put to use – from Greece to Sydney Airport last week.

Normally a team arrives with the helicopter, enabling it to operate, however the team for the Ichabod were only due to fly to Australia at a later date.

As bushfires started earlier than expected, authorities were caught off-guard and forced to scramble without the use of the second craft.

A spokesman for Emergency Services Minister Michael Gallacher last night said the aircraft had been given late approval yesterday to fly to bushfire-ravaged Springwood.

It was unclear whether the craft was being piloted by Americans or Australian crew.

“As we speak it’s operational,” the spokesman said about 5pm yesterday.

“It was not due to come online for a few more weeks but it’s heading up to Springwood as we speak.”

Sources briefed on the situation said emergency services had not anticipated it would be needed so early in the fire season.

“They were waiting for the pilots to come out from the State’s and they hadn’t arrived yet because the season had

kicked off earlier than expected,” a source told The Sunday Telegraph.

“They didn’t have the crew and they were rushing them out.

“When you’re doing these contracts a fair way out, it’s difficult to predict this situation – and they’ve had a busy year in California as well.”

The helicopters are able to carry about 10,000 litres of water and are frequently brought to Australia from the United States for the bushfire season and hot weather.

Due to its absence from the fire front, ordinary choppers used by the RFS were mobilised.

However it’s understand those replacement craft can only dump 300 litres of water, sources said.

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