Air tanker crashes while fighting fire in Yosemite National Park
(CNN) — An air tanker crashed Tuesday while fighting a wildfire in Yosemite National Park, spurring a difficult search for its pilot.
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 a pilot on board — went down near an entrance to the park.
“Rescue personnel are at the scene working their way through extremely difficult terrain to determine the condition of our pilot,” Berlant said.
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.
Investigators from the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are expected to arrive on site Wednesday morning to begin investigating the crash, Gregor said.
The Dog Rock Fire was reported around 2:45 p.m. (5:45 p.m. ET) between the park boundary and the Arch Rock entrance station.
Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb said about two hours later that the blaze had burned about 130 acres and was “0% contained.”
“We don’t know what started it,” Cobb said.
The blaze has already prompted the evacuation of 60 homes, most of them vacation rentals, in the park’s Foresta area, according to Cobb.
Yosemite’s website also noted that parts of El Portal Road has been closed to all traffic.