Three people have tragically died after a large aerial water tanker crashed while fighting bushfires in the Snowy Mountains.
Helicopters embarked on a desperate search for the water bomber after the NSW Rural Fire Service said it lost contact with the C-130 Hercules aircraft on Thursday afternoon.
The aircraft was seen putting out flames near Peak View in the Snowy Monaro region.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the news on Thursday afternoon.
“Unfortunately we have been advised there has been an aviation accident involving a large air tanker providing response to fires in NSW,” ACT Emergency Services Agency commissioner Georgeina Wheelan said.
The NSW Rural Fire Service earlier said “local ground crews indicate the aircraft may have crashed”.
“A number of helicopters are in the area carrying out a search,” the service said.
Five road ambulances and two rescue helicopters were sent out to the scene after receiving reports of a plane crash in Peak View, a NSW Ambulance spokeswoman said.
The NSW Rural Fire Service is investigating reports of a serious incident involving an aircraft in southern NSW this afternoon.— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 23, 2020
Contact was lost with a Large Air Tanker which was working in the Snowy Monaro area. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/i6u1mlZsZ0
Elsewhere, an emergency bushfire alert forced the closure of Canberra Airport on Thursday afternoon, with all flights to and from the airport grounded.
Water bombers were closing in on the fast-moving grass fire near Canberra airport, as those inside the airport and nearby residents were told it was too late to leave.
The out-of-control blaze was burning on each side of the airport and it is unclear how long flights will be affected with several of them being diverted to Sydney.
A bushfire south of the airport was set to "emergency" level on Thursday.
Hundreds of passengers have been impacted by the fire, which blew heavy smoke across the runway.
Videos posted by onlookers showed strong winds ripping through the trees and thick blankets of smoke next to the airport and waterbombers closing in on the fire.
Tweet from @ElizaEdNews
Residents in the Canberra suburbs of Beard, Oaks Estate as well Queanbeyan's Crestwood have been told it's too late leave and they should seek shelter.
The blaze started on Wednesday but strong winds and high temperatures have seen conditions in Canberra deteriorate.
A second fire near the airport that started on Thursday morning is at "watch and act" level.
Nearby residents were told to get their bushfire plans ready as authorities warned conditions could get worse.
Tweet from @emilybarton1211
Firefighters were also responding to burning trees in the southern Canberra suburb of Monash.
ACT emergency services have issued a total fire ban.
A large fire near Adaminaby, south of the ACT, was at "emergency" level while the Clyde Mountain fire on the NSW south coast had been upgraded to "watch and act".
A return of hot and windy conditions resulted in seven bushfires being elevated to emergency warning level across NSW and the ACT on Thursday afternoon as temperatures soared into the 40s.
The fire at Box Hill in Sydney’s north-west was downgraded to “watch and act” after 1pm.
Blazes at Clyde Mountain and Badja Forest on the South Coast, Adaminaby in the Snowy Mountains and Big Jack Mountain and Glen Allen in the Bega Valley area remain at emergency level along with another fire burning near Canberra Airport.
Although fire grounds across the state have received rain in the past week, hot temperatures and high winds on Thursday led to an increase in fire activity.
Temperatures reached 42 degrees in western Sydney at Penrith and Richmond and further inland at Coonamble and Bourke.
Seven NSW fire regions stretching from the Queensland border to the Victoria border are under total fire bans including greater Sydney. All seven regions were deemed to have a “severe” or “extreme” bushfire risk.
There were 84 fires burning across NSW with 40 yet to be contained at 3pm.
“Today will be a return to the bad old days we’ve seen over the course of the past few months,” NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said on Thursday morning.
“Our appeal, of course, is for people to ensure they remain vigilant.”
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said conditions on the ground had improved over the past week due to rainfall but not all fire-affected communities had enjoyed a drenching.
The commissioner predicted fires on Sydney’s perimeter – including the large Gospers Mountain and Green Wattle Creek fires – had the potential to deteriorate again.
The unprecedented blazes in NSW have killed 21 people this fire season and razed more than 2000 homes.