Kiwi chopper pilot dies fighting NSW bushfire

A New Zealand-born helicopter pilot who died water bombing a major bushfire in Australia has been described as an amazing man with years of experience fighting fires from the air.

Allan Tull was killed when his helicopter crashed west of Ulladulla on the New South Wales south coast about 2pm on Friday (local time) while working on the Mount Kingiman blaze which has burned through 1700ha as unseasonal fires continued to burn throughout the state.

The experienced pilot was described as "an amazing guy" by a colleague at Sydney Helicopters, where he worked.

"It's a massive shock ... we are absolutely devastated with the loss," the employee told AAP.

The crash appears to have been caused when the water bucket became stuck in trees and pulled the 1994 Kawasaki helicopter down.

Sydney Helicopters said Mr Tull's death will be felt by all in the firefighting community and beyond.

"Tully had a wealth of aerial firefighting experience and his aviation knowledge and skills were of the highest standard, he was regarded as one of the most experienced fire bombing pilots in the industry," chief pilot Mark Harrold said.

The chopper had been registered to Sydney Helicopters since May 2015, with their website saying the company had provided "many hundreds of hours" of aerial waterbombing to NSW and ACT fire agencies.

"The pilot put his life on the line to protect and keep our community safe and he has paid the ultimate price," local MP Shelley Hancock said.

Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant and Premier Gladys Berejiklian also expressed their sympathies.

Mr Tull's Facebook page says that he went to Kerikeri High School.

He was quoted in a 2011 New Zealand Herald article, saying he had fought dangerous fires in Australia for more than a decade.

"They have a lot of accidents there, it's dangerous, hot work," Mr Tull told the Herald.

"But you can't think of any of that stuff, else you wouldn't be able to do it. I just think that when your number is up, it's up."

This week's unseasonal bushfires stretching the length of the NSW coast from the Queensland border to Victoria have also destroyed three homes and 22 outbuildings.

Five major fires on the south coast and to the north were still out of control on Friday night.

The Rural Fire Service has confirmed the Bemboka fire on the south coast burned down three homes and four outbuildings in the Bega Valley while 11 outbuildings were lost in the Mount Kingiman blaze nearby.

The RFS said favourable conditions have helped firefighters backburn and use other methods to contain the blazes. But they won't all be under control before Saturday when winds are expected gust up to 40km/h.

 

 

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