Parents of American killed in Queensland plane crash seek answers

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The parents of a young American man who died in a light plane crash in outback Queensland say their son was the light of their lives, and they need answers about how he died.

Mechanical engineer William Jennings, 22, was one of three people who died helping to map bushfires in the state. Their plane crashed in the McKinlay area of Queensland, south-east of Mount Isa, about 2.30pm on Saturday.

William Jennings was one of three people killed when a firefighting surveillance plane crashed in Queensland.

Jennings’ parents, Joseph and Denise, have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to bring his body back to the US. It has raised more than $40,000.

Joseph told Nine Network’s Today program on Monday morning that Jennings died doing what he loved.

“Will was doing what he always did: helping people. It was no surprise when he got the call to go to Australia and try to help out. He jumped on the opportunity, and he was so excited to do it,” he said.

Denise told Today the world needed to know what an extraordinary young man Jennings was. She said they had believed he was safe in Australia.

“He told us that it would be safe, that he would be nowhere near the wildfires, he would be up in a plane with the thermal camera mapping out where the hotspots were,” she said.

“He brought us so much joy in the 22 years he was with us. We’re heartbroken, we’re so heartbroken, and we need answers.”

Joseph said Jennings felt good about his work. “But it’s dangerous work, no matter what you’re going to say.”

Police said a rescue helicopter crew spotted the plane’s wreckage and officers arrived on the scene about 5pm on Saturday, after the crash had been called in by workers at a nearby mine.

“They’d observed a plane go down, and then they observed a plume of smoke,” Superintendent Tom Armitt told journalists in Mount Isa on Sunday.

“The plane is completely destroyed by fire.”

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has started an investigation and expects to release a preliminary report in six to eight weeks.

Jennings’ employer, aerial firefighting business AGAIR, from the western Victorian town of Stawell, said it was “utterly devastated”.

“During aerial fire surveillance operations, an accident occurred with one of our aircraft,” the company said.

“We are all utterly devastated, and our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the families of our staff.

“Our sincerest gratitude to the first responders and [Queensland Fire and Emergency Services] who are providing ongoing assistance to us.”

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