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Plane Fighting Yosemite Wildfire Crashes, Killing Pilot

A spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the agency lost contact with an air tanker Tuesday. The Dog Rock Fire burned 130 acres in two hours.

Posted on October 7, 2014, at 9:17 p.m. ET

Yosemite National Park Rangers transfer the body of a Cal Fire pilot who was killed in an airtanker crash in Yosemite National Park on Tuesday. AP Photo/Al Golub

The Dog Rock Fire, which by Thursday had grown to 240 acres, was caused by sparks from a vehicle, the Associated Press reported.

The sparks may have come from brakes or a dragging trailer chain, park officials said.

By Thursday morning, about 10 percent of the fire was contained. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the crash of an air tanker that killed its pilot.

He was identified as 62-year-old Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, a San Jose resident who had worked for a Cal Fire contractor for 13 years.

“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.”

Evacuation of area homes was lifted Thursday afternoon, and a utility company was examining lines to determine if power could be safely restored.

This undated photo provided by DynCorp International shows pilot Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt. AP Photo/DynCorp International

An air tanker crashed Tuesday afternoon while fighting a fire that broke out in Yosemite National Park, killing the pilot, authorities said.

The Dog Rock Fire was reported at 2:45 p.m. Tuesday near the Arch Rock entrance station of the park, park officials said. It grew to about 150 acres, cut electricity to the park, and forced the evacuation of 60 homes in the nearby community of Foresta, California.

Fire crews and aircraft responded to the blaze, and around 4:30 p.m. contact was lost with one air tanker. A California Fire spokesman said a Grumman S-2T tanker crashed in "very difficult terrain."

Emergency personnel were able to reach the crash site on Tuesday evening and found the pilot on board had died, Cal Fire said in a statement.

"This crash underscores just how inherently dangerous wildland firefighting is and the job is further compounded this year by extreme fire conditions," said Chief Ken Pimlott, Cal Fire director. "We have secured the crash site and will be cooperating with the NTSB on their investigation."

The tanker was one of four responding to the wildfire in addition to helicopters and 12 fire engines.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot's family during this difficult time," said Jeff Cavarra, program director for DynCorp International.

Several people in the area reported the seeing or hearing the plane go down.

Photo of @CAL_FIRE tanker crash at #Yosemite. Courtesy Ken Yager, who heard a loud boom & snapped this photo. #news10

Nick Monacelli@nickmonacelliFollow

Photo of @CAL_FIRE tanker crash at #Yosemite. Courtesy Ken Yager, who heard a loud boom & snapped this photo. #news10

7:49 PM - 07 Oct 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

@CBSNews we saw the plane crash at #Yosemite. This picture was taken 3 seconds after the crash.

Jeroen Lemaitre@JrnLmtrFollow

@CBSNews we saw the plane crash at #Yosemite. This picture was taken 3 seconds after the crash.

6:54 PM - 07 Oct 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

Jeroen Lemaitre, a 27-year-old Belgium resident who is camping at the park, told BuzzFeed News he had stopped his car on the other side of the valley to look at the smoke and flames from the fire. Lemaitre said he watched a helicopter douse the fire with water, then two planes flying together make an approach.

The first plane dropped retardant material on the blaze, and the second plane attempted to do the same, he said.

"But it seemed like it had problems to do the same," he said. "Then suddenly it started spinning."

It crashed in a burst of flames, he said.

"Horrifying sound."

By Tuesday evening, crews on foot were hiking to find the crash site.

All tankers over #DogRockFire in Yosemite are grounded. An air tanker has crashed. Crews hiking in.

Diana Marcum@DianaMarcumFollow

All tankers over #DogRockFire in Yosemite are grounded. An air tanker has crashed. Crews hiking in.

6:10 PM - 07 Oct 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

The plane was believed to have crashed near Highway 140.

Natl Park Service spokesman tells #KCRA plane crashed one mile inside #Yosemite Natl Park on Hwy 140. #BREAKING

David Bienick@kcrabienickFollow

Natl Park Service spokesman tells #KCRA plane crashed one mile inside #Yosemite Natl Park on Hwy 140. #BREAKING

6:18 PM - 07 Oct 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

The Grumman S-2T was formerly an anti-submarine war plane in the '60s and '70s.

CalFire / Via calfire.ca.gov

Cal Fire acquired the planes from the Department of Defense in 1996 and converted them to drop flame retardant. There are 23 of the planes in use around the state, and they are typically deployed in the early stages of a wildfire.

The last time a Cal Fire plane crashed was almost 10 years ago, a spokesman said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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