The body of a pilot who died while fighting a fire in Yosemite National Park was recovered Wednesday morning, as investigators seek to figure out what caused the tanker to crash into a mountainside.
He was identified as Geoffrey Craig Hunt, 62, of San Jose, according to Cal Fire Batallion Chief Richard Lopez. Hunt was a father of three.
As Hunt's body was taken out from a Yosemite ambulance on Wednesday morning, park rangers and firefighters saluted his coffin, draped with an American flag.
Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said at a news conference, the pilot was a DynCorp contractor who had been working for the state firefighting agency for 13 years. Hunt's tanker was based out of the Hollister Air Attack Base.
"We treat those pilots as though they were – they are – Cal firefighters," Berlant said. "He died serving the state and his community."
Berlant said authorities lost contact with the Grumman S-2T Tanker 81 about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday as the pilot was fighting the Dog Rock Fire in Yosemite, which as of Wednesday, had scorched 210 acres and was 0 percent contained.
Later, authorities learned the tanker had crashed into a mountain near Arch Rock. The terrain is difficult, Berlant said, and it took crews until Tuesday night to find the pilot.
#CALFIRE Pilot daughter Sarah: "My dad died a hero...He was my best friend."— Damian Trujillo (@newsdamian) October 8, 2014
The conditions were smoky and "explosive," Berlant said. Hunt's aircraft is part of a fleet of 1950s-era Navy tankers given to the state of California to fight fires. Berlant insisted the fleet of 23 tankers are well maintained. The remaining 22, however, are grounded for now. San Jose photographer and firefighter Craig Rose sent in a photo of the same tanker that crashed as it helped to put out the Loma Fire in Santa Cruz in 2009.
DynCorp. provides the pilots for all CalFire planes and maintenance for the department's aircraft, said Janet Upton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The company issued a statement citing its "team member" who was "tragically killed" as he "bravely piloted an aircraft deployed to suppress and control a wildfire...The DI family extends its deepest sympathies to the pilot's family and loved ones in this difficult time."
NBC Bay Area's Damian Trujillo and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Memorial at Hollister Air Attack Base for Tanker-81 pic.twitter.com/c0LVC7hs7a— Damian Trujillo (@newsdamian) October 8, 2014