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CAL FIRE Tanker May Have Hit A Tree Before Crashing

Photo / Craig Rose

Photographer Craig Rose took this shot of Cal Fire Air Tanker 81 during the Stevens Fire.

Photo / Craig Rose

The air tanker that crashed fighting the Dog Rock Fire near Yosemite last week may have hit a tree before it crashed. A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board says the crew of the aerial coordinator above the aerial firefight saw the wing separate from the plane before it crashed into a hillside near El Portal.  Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt of San Jose was flying the tanker and was killed in the crash.

According to the NTSB report, Hunt had made one drop of retardant on the fire that day and was following a lead plane on a second run when the crash occurred.

"Aerial firefighting is not simply flying from one airport to another. The wildland firefighting environment is a challenging one, both on the ground and in the air," said Chief Ken Pimlott, director of CAL FIRE. "We look forward to the final NTSB report to see if we can use the findings to help mitigate the inherent dangers of the job. We owe that to Craig, who traded his life in an effort to protect the lives of others."

Hunt was a veteran pilot with 13-years experience flying for Dyncorp International under contract with Cal Fire.

The tanker was dropping retardant on a fire in a steep canyon near Yosemite's west entrance.

Air crews reported that there was smoke in the area at the time of the crash, but visibility was good.  The crew of the lead plane reported not seeing the crash.

The crash is being investigated by the NTSB, Office of Aviation Safety, National Parks Service, U.S Forest Service, and CAL FIRE.

A final report likely will take months.

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