Comments for attribution to ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell:
It is very early days in our investigation, and at this stage given the remoteness of the site, and the fact that it is bushfire affected, means we have only a limited understanding of the nature of the accident.
We do know that the accident occurred after the aircraft had conducted a second retardant drop on the fire.
Thankfully the crew were able to self-extract from the aircraft and were essentially uninjured.
This is the first serious accident involving a Boeing 737 aircraft in Australia, and the second involving a large air tanker firebombing aircraft. The accident aircraft was formerly operated in the United States as a passenger airliner before being extensively modified by the operator for its aerial firefighting role.
At this stage there is nothing to suggest this accident has wider implications for the global Boeing 737 airliner fleet. It is also too early to suggest any kind of link to the C-130 large air tanker accident near Cooma in NSW in January 2020 that the ATSB also investigated.
We have assembled a very experienced team of transport safety investigators from both our Perth and Canberra offices to conduct the evidence collection phase of this investigation, including investigators involved in the C-130 large air tanker accident. The investigation team includes investigators with experience in aircraft operations, aircraft maintenance, human factors, and data recovery and analysis.
The initial focus of the investigation is to interview both pilots and witnesses, plus to seek to recover and download the aircraft's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, once it is safe to do so.
As you can imagine we expect the site to present its challenges to our investigators. It is remote, an active fire ground, the aircraft is at least partially burnt, and aircraft wreckage can involve hazardous materials, so our investigators will take a cautious and measured approached to their onsite activities.
We expect to have investigators on site at the accident site for a number of days, arriving tomorrow, pending accessibility considerations. There they will examine and map the accident site, recover the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, and any other aircraft components we deem necessary for further examination in the ATSB’s technical facilities, back in Canberra. Investigators will also map the accident site with a drone.
Other investigation activities will include reviewing pilot and maintenance records, operator procedures, tasking arrangements, the weather and environmental conditions.
Over coming days the collection of evidence will allow us to determine the scope of the investigation and gain a better understanding of the investigation's timeframe. We will publish a detailed report at the conclusion of the investigation.
However, if at any time during the investigation we discover a critical safety issue, we will work closely with the relevant stakeholders so action can be taken to address that issue.