The three are 44-year-old Capt. Ian McBeth of Great Falls, Montana, who was piloting the downed C-130 plane; First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, age 42, of Buckeye, Arizona; and 43-year-old Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr., who lived in Navarre, Florida, Coulson said in a statement.
“The aviation industry and emergency service sector is a small community both in Australia and around the world,” Coulson said. “This will be deeply felt by all.”
All three men were veterans of the US military, Coulson said.
The cause of the crash is not yet known.
A government official in Australia said the water tanker plane had been chartered by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.
According to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, contact was lost with the C-130 water-bombing plane shortly before 1:30 p.m. local time on Thursday.
Fires have been burning in New South Wales for months, and the US and other countries have been lending firefighting assistance and personnel.
The US said Wednesday it’s sending two more 20-person crews, only days after sending air support personnel and other emergency management teams.