Pilots Survive Boeing 737 Crash While Fighting Bush Fires

The two pilots managed to walk away from the burning plane with minor injuries.

Two pilots miraculously survived a plane crash while helping put out fires in Western Australia. Authorities say the two men were presumed dead when the Boeing 737 crashed and burned—the first time a Boeing 737 has been "lost" on Australian soil. "When I first heard of it I assumed the worst but I'm advised that the pilot and crew have survived. That's a miracle… I'm amazed," says Mark McGowan, the premier of Western Australia. Here's what happened to the plane, and how the men managed to escape with only minor injuries

Plane Was Putting Out Bush Fires

Sky News

The Boeing 737 Fireliner crashed in the Fitzgerald River National Park, which is approximately 300 miles southeast of Perth, at 4.40 pm local time on Monday, February 6. The Coulson Aviation water bomber took off from the Busselton-Margaret River airport at about 3:25 pm in response to a bush fire. Pictures show the plane exploding after it hit the ground, with black smoke rising from the wreck. 

Pilots Had To Make An Emergency Landing


It's believed the pilots had to make an emergency landing after clipping a ridge at a low altitude. "In this particular instance it does look as though it's potentially clipped the ridge line and has pancaked down, so it's certainly a horizontal landing as opposed to vertically into the ground. It makes a big difference," says Angus Mitchell, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

A Fantastic Outcome For the Pilots

ABC Australia

Western Australia's fire and emergency services commissioner said the jet was coming around to drop a second load of fire retardant when it crashed, and it was a "fantastic outcome" for the pilots. "It is an unbelievable story really, that they've been able to put the 737 down in a national park there and both walk away."

The Pilots Could Walk Away From Wreck

ABC Australia

The pilots, who are from the US and Canada, were able to free themselves from the cockpit and safely walk away from the plane. They have already been released from the hospital. "Our thoughts and our immediate concern is for those team members and their families," Coulson Group CEO Wayne Coulson says. "We are very grateful the two team members on Tanker 139 are safe. We are offering all the support we can to our local and international crews. We're also grateful for the support being provided by our firefighting and aviation industry colleagues in Western Australia."

This Is Coulson Crash Number 2

Busselton State Emergency Service/Facebook

This is not the first Coulson jet to crash during a mission—three crew members died in 2020 when a Coulson plane crashed fighting bush fires in southern New South Wales. "The operator of these aircraft, Coulson Aviation, did have a Hercules have an accident during firefighting a couple of years ago in New South Wales," says aviation consultant and former pilot Keith Tonkin. "But the 737 [for firefighting] in Australia is not commonly used. It's only been in the country a couple of years now and has successfully operated without any incidents, so this is very unusual."

Two Investigations Are Underway


Both the DFES and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) are conducting investigations into the incident. "Initially, investigators will seek to interview the pilots and witnesses to understand the circumstances of the accident, and determine the accessibility of the accident site with the aim of conducting an on-site examination of the aircraft wreckage," the ATSB says. "The scope of the investigation and its time frame will be determined as the ATSB builds its understanding of the nature of the accident."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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