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3 dead US fire bombers retrieved from Australian forest

The bodies of three Americans who died when a water bombing plane crashed while battling Australia’s unprecedented wildfire crisis were retrieved on Saturday as their families arrived in Sydney, officials said.

Ian McBeth of Great Falls, Montana, Paul Clyde Hudson of Buckeye, Arizona, and Rick A. DeMorgan of Navarre, Florida, died when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed on Thursday after dumping fire retardant on an out-of-control blaze northeast of the town of Cooma in southern New South Wales state.

Their bodies were retrieved Saturday from a still-active fire zone, a police statement said. They were taken to Sydney.

In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo provided by the New South Wales Police, investigators work at the crash site of a firefighting air tanker near Numeralla, south west of Sydney. Three crew from the U.S. were killed when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed while fighting wildfires in Australia, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement. (NSW Police via AP)

The Americans’ relatives who began arriving Saturday will be offered an opportunity to visit the hillside crash site, officials said.

Crash investigators have yet to explain why the four-propeller plane crashed in a fire ball shortly after dumping its load of water with additives in turbulent conditions. The plane was contracted from Canada-based Coulson Aviation, which is sending executives to Sydney.

Wildfires have claimed at least 33 lives in Australia since September, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 10.6 million hectares (26 million acres). That's an area larger than the U.S state of Kentucky.

In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo provided by the New South Wales Police, wreckage is strewn at the crash site of a firefighting air tanker near Numeralla, south west of Sydney. Three crew from the U.S. were killed when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed while fighting wildfires in Australia, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement. (NSW Police via AP)

In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo provided by the New South Wales Police, police and other investigators stand in the shade of a tree near the crash site of a firefighting air tanker near Numeralla, south west of Sydney. Three crew from the U.S. were killed when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed while fighting wildfires in Australia, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement. (NSW Police via AP)

In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo provided by the New South Wales Police, a firefighting helicopter works on an active wildfire near the crash site of a firefighting air tanker near Numeralla, south west of Sydney. Three crew from the U.S. were killed when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed while fighting wildfires in Australia, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement. (NSW Police via AP)

In this Jan. 24, 2020, photo provided by the New South Wales Police, smoke rises from an active wildfire near the crash site of a firefighting air tanker near Numeralla, south west of Sydney. Three crew from the U.S. were killed when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed while fighting wildfires in Australia, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement. (NSW Police via AP)

In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo provided by the New South Wales Police, wreckage is strewn at the crash site of a firefighting air tanker near Numeralla, south west of Sydney. Three crew from the U.S. were killed when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed while fighting wildfires in Australia, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement. (NSW Police via AP)

In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo provided by the New South Wales Police, investigators work at the crash site of a firefighting air tanker near Numeralla, south west of Sydney. Three crew from the U.S. were killed when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed while fighting wildfires in Australia, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement. (NSW Police via AP)

This Jan. 24, 2020, aerial photo provided by the New South Wales Police, shows wreckage is strewn at the crash site of a firefighting air tanker near Numeralla, south west of Sydney. Three crew from the U.S. were killed when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed while fighting wildfires in Australia, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement. (NSW Police via AP)

In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo provided by the New South Wales Police, wreckage is strewn at the crash site of a firefighting air tanker near Numeralla, south west of Sydney, Australia. Three crew from the U.S. were killed when their C-130 Hercules tanker crashed while fighting wildfires in Australia, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement. (NSW Police via AP)