A pilot using an air tanker to battle a massive wildfire at Yosemite National Park died after the aircraft crashed on Tuesday.
Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant told CNN that authorities lost contact with the pilot on Tuesday afternoon while the aircraft was fighting what is being called the Dog Rock Fire at Yosemite.
According to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor, the aircraft crashed near the entrance of the park “under unknown circumstances.” Gregor told CNN there was only one pilot on board.
The Dog Rock Fire was first reported at about 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday. The blaze prompted the evacuation of around 60 homes near the town of Foresta, and had burned nearly 150 acres as of Tuesday evening.
“We don’t know what started it,” Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb told CNN.
Several witnesses both saw and heard the plane crash, according to local NBC News affiliate KCRA.
“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 impact,” California Highway Patrol Sgt. Chris Michael told KCRA. “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.”
“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” park visitor Don Talend told KCRA. “There was actually a ranger there behind us… He had a look of disbelief on his face.”
According to the report, investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board were scheduled to arrive Wednesday morning to look into the cause of the crash.
The pilot’s identity is being withheld as Cal Fire works to notify family members of the crash.
Cal Fire have been using aircraft outfitted with fire retardants to fight wildfires since 1996, according to an agency report.
Image: Cal Fire/Flickr