Bishops express sorrow, support after Buckeye firefighter, two other Americans die in Australia

Among the U.S. firefighters who died in an air tanker crash while battling bushfires in Australia was First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42, from Buckeye. (CNS photo/AAP Image, Coulson Aviation via Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Representatives of the U.S. bishops expressed sorrow after three U.S. firefighters died in an air crash while fighting bushfires in Australia, among them 42-year-old First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson from Buckeye.

Born July 21, 1977, Hudson graduated from the Naval Academy in 1999 and served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years, where he flew C-130 airplanes similar to the one used in Australia. He went on to earn master’s degrees in business administration and information technology management from the Naval Postgraduate School.

“As the people of Australia continue to endure terrible fires, let us renew our prayer and generosity. Today, the suffering was brought even closer to home with the loss of three brave American crew members who died in the crash of a tanker airplane used in fighting wildfires in Australia. We join in prayerful solidarity with their families and with all the people of Australia and all those in regions affected by these terrible fires,” said a statement from Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The Americans were all military veterans and included, in addition to Hudson, Capt. Ian H. McBeth, 44, of Great Falls, Montana, and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., 43 of Navarre, Florida. They died when the C-130 aerial water tanker they were in crashed in New South Wales. The three were among eight firefighters and 31 people total who have died in the wildfires since September.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those who are suffering from this tragedy and from the disaster these dedicated professionals were fighting. In our prayer, we recall in trust that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, offering Himself to us and calling us to Himself even in our hardest hour,” said the statement from Archbishop Coakley and Bishop Malloy.

A supplied undated combined image shows U.S. firefighters died in an air tanker crash while battling bushfires in Australia. Pictured, from left, are Capt. Ian H. McBeth, 44, of Great Falls, Mont., and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., 43 of Navarre, Fla. (CNS photo/AAP Image, Coulson Aviation via Reuters)

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings to be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset Jan. 24 to honor Hudson.

“First Officer Paul Hudson was a hero who represented Arizona’s very best,” said Ducey. “When duty called again, First Officer Hudson didn’t hesitate, putting his life on the line to help others battling wildfires in Australia.

“My sincere condolences go out to First Officer Hudson’s family and loved ones,” the governor added, “And our prayers are with them and all Arizona’s firefighters providing aid in Australia.”

They also encouraged Catholics “and all appropriate parties to be generous in their financial support of these recovery efforts. We pray for the safety and well-being of those affected and those fighting the fires and hope for the eventual restoration of the homes and natural habitats that have been destroyed.”

Catholic parishes in Australia were set to take a special collection the weekend of Jan. 25-26, with proceeds going to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Australia. The Vinnies, as they are known, also set up an online site for donations with assurances that credit cards from other countries could be used.