A specialist team of investigators have been called in to carry out the grim task of identifying the remains of three passengers killed in a fiery plane crash.
The plane carrying three workers from Victorian-based flight charter company, AGAIR, crashed in ‘difficult terrain’ near the Eloise Copper Mine south of Cloncurry in north-west Queensland around 2.30pm on Saturday.
The crew had been deployed to the area in a Rockwell 696 Jetprop to provide assistance in fighting bushfires in rural Queensland.
A disaster victim identification team will arrive on the scene to identify the bodies on Monday after the plane was engulfed in flames after the crash.
Investigators will attend to the rural crime scene that is currently being guarded by police, with investigations estimated to take days.
Tom Armitt, Mount Isa District Officer Superintendent, said his officers had not examined the wreckage yet and will be at the scene throughout the week.
‘They will complete and confirm all those details for us,’ he said.
‘In this case, we know who was on the plane … we will be relying on the disaster victim identification team to repatriate those deceased for the relevant post mortem examinations to occur and fully identities to be confirmed from there.
Supt Armitt said the team of investigators would have to be flown in from around the country and then be transported to the crash because of how rural the site is.
‘We can’t provide any technical answers as to why this has occurred. We will do our best to provide a thorough investigation,’ he said.
‘We really feel for the families of the victims. At this stage, we’re in the very, very early stages of our investigation.’
As well as identifying the deceased, investigators will provide the coroner with details regarding the airworthiness of the plane and technical details of the flight.
Despite being in China for meetings with China’s General Secretary, Xi Xingping, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese spoke on the tragedy during a press conference.
‘All Australians’ thoughts are with the family, friends, and all who know the brave firefighters who’ve lost their lives as a result of the fatal air accident that occurred in North Queensland,’ Mr Albanese said.
‘We know that people who fight fires and stand up in emergency services risk their lives each and every day to assist their fellow Australians and to assist their communities. And today, our hearts go out to them.’
Prime Minister Albanese continued to pay tribute to the three deceased in the ‘terribly sad’ crash in a post to X, formerly Twitter.
‘Three brave souls working to help their fellow Australians have lost their lives in Queensland,’ Mr Albanese wrote.
‘A tragic reminder of the dangers those on the front line of bushfires face. Heartfelt condolences to their loved ones and colleagues in this time of grief.’
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) took to Facebook to pay tribute to the three passengers of the plane.
‘Our hearts are heavy following the fatal plane crash this afternoon in north west Queensland and the tragic loss of three people supporting our bushfire response,’ a QFES post to Facebook reads.
‘During natural disasters in Queensland, we respond as a family. That family includes those contracted to support our aerial operations.
‘Side by side we have been fighting these bushfires as one and their loss is felt by all.
‘Our thoughts and prayers are with their family, friends and those who worked alongside them, including our Air Operations personnel.’
In a statement from AGAIR’s chief executive, Rob Boschen, confirmed the aircraft was ‘engaged in fire surveillance operations’ at the time of the crash.
‘Authorities have confirmed three of our valued, and dearly loved staff were the only occupants of the aircraft, and there were no survivors,’ Mr Boschen wrote.
‘We are utterly devastated, and our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the families of our staff.
‘AGAIR will provide full assistance and support to all authorities in the course of their investigations.’
Similar planes being used by the QFES in fire surveillance will be momentarily grounded until investigations conclude.