Pilot dies in air tanker crash while fighting fire at Yosemite

Yosemite wildfire forces evacuations
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Story highlights

  • The pilot is identified as Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt, 62
  • Authorities lost contact with an air tanker while it is fighting a blaze in Yosemite
  • Investigators from the FAA, NTSB should arrive on site Wednesday
  • 60 homes have been evacuated due to the blaze, according to Yosemite spokesman
The pilot of an air tanker battling a wildfire at Yosemite National Park died after the tanker crashed, Cal Fire said.
The tanker was being used to help battle Dog Rock Fire when authorities lost contact with its pilot Tuesday afternoon, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said in a statement.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the plane -- which had only one pilot on board -- went down near an entrance to the park.
On Wednesday, officials identified the pilot as Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt, 62.
"We continue to mourn the tragic loss of Craig," said Chief Ken Pimlott, Cal Fire director. "We know wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, but Craig made the ultimate sacrifice."
Video from CNN affiliate KCRA showed smoke and flames rising from what appeared to be a tree-lined ridge in a remote valley. A helicopter could be seen dropping what appeared to be water on the blaze before flying from the scene.
The tanker that crashed was an S-2T, one of several aircraft that Cal Fire deploys to battle wildfires.
According to Cal Fire, it bought 26 such planes from the U.S. Department of Defense in 1996 and fitted them "with modern, powerful turboprop engines" that made them "faster, safer, and more maneuverable."
All but a few of those planes, equipped with a payload of retardant to drop on flames, are now being used statewide.
The aircraft went down "under unknown circumstances," said Gregor, the FAA spokesman.
The Dog Rock Fire was reported around 2:45 p.m. (5:45 p.m. ET) Tuesday between the park boundary and the Arch Rock entrance station.
The blaze has already prompted the evacuation of 60 homes, most of them vacation rentals, in the park's Foresta area, according to Cobb.