California Pilot Dies in Crash Fighting Yosemite Wildfire

Authorities said a pilot is dead after his air tanker crashed while fighting a California wildfire in Yosemite National Park.

State fire spokeswoman Alyssa Smith said Tuesday night that rescue crews reached the wreckage of the crash and confirmed the pilot's death several hours after the plane went down.

The pilot's family has requested no name be released until all immediate family members can be notified.

Witnesses said the plane smashed into a steep canyon wall.

California Highway Patrol Sgt. Chris Michael said he was stopping traffic along state Route 140 at the west entrance to the park about 4:24 p.m. when he witnessed the crash.

"I heard a large explosion, I looked up on the steep canyon wall and saw aircraft debris was actually raining down the side of the mountain after the impact,'' he told The Associated Press by telephone. "It hit the steep side of the canyon wall. It appeared from the direction he was going, he was trying to make a drop down the side of the canyon when he hit the canyon wall.''

The fire was spreading up the canyon wall, and it appeared the pilot was trying to lay down fire retardant to stop its progress, Michael said.

"It most definitely did disintegrate on impact,'' he said. "It was nothing. I didn't see anything but small pieces.''

Pieces of the aircraft landed on the highway and came close to hitting fire crews on the ground nearby, but no one on the ground was injured, he said.

"It came pretty close to hitting them, but they were far enough away that it missed them, fortunately,'' he said.'

The Grumman S-2 tanker was fighting the Dog Rock Fire when it went down.

All airtankers were grounded immediately after the plane disappeared, Cal Fire officials said. The aircraft was assigned to the wildfire burning near Yosemite's Arch Rock, where the plane is believed to have gone down, Cal Fire spokesman Dennis Mathisen said.

It wasn't immediately clear from which airport the plane took off.

The missing pilot is an employee of DynCorp., a contractor that 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 fire had broken out about 90 minutes earlier Tuesday near Route 140, which leads into the heart of the park. It had grown to about 130 acres by Tuesday evening and forced the evacuation of several dozen homes near the community of Foresta.

It's not clear how many of the homes were occupied or how many people have actually evacuated.

The same community had to evacuate for several weeks in July from one of several major wildfires that has burned in the park this year.


A fire just started a couple hours ago in #Yosemite and we heard a fire fighting plane go down near the trail. �� #DogRockFire

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