Cal Fire Tanker May Have Hit Tree

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The NTSB has released its preliminary report on the Oct. 7 fatal crash of a Cal Fire S-2F3AT tanker that was engaged in fighting the Dog Rock forest fire in Yosemite National Park, California. The NTSB reports that the crew of an aircraft that was operating as a controller for the firefighting operation and orbiting overhead said that “the accident airplane may have struck a tree with its wing, which separated from the airplane” before the airplane crashed into a canyon wall and burned. The highly experienced pilot, Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, was the sole occupant of the S-2F3AT. He perished in the crash.

According to the preliminary report, Hunt had made one drop on the fire and then landed at the Columbia, California, Airport where the airplane was loaded with 1200 gallons of fire retardant. He then returned to the area of the fire where he followed a lead aircraft that tracked ahead of Hunt’s airplane to show the desired route and drop point for his load. The lead aircraft did not see the accident, but its crew and that of the orbiting controller reported that “there was smoke in the area, but visibility was good.” The S-2F3AT is a Garrett TPE331-powered turboprop conversion of the Grumman S-2F Tracker, which was used by the U.S. Navy as a carrier-based anti-submarine aircraft from the 1950s through the early 1970s. Cal Fire operates more than 20 of the aircraft. The NTSB will issue a factual report and probable cause at the conclusion of its investigation into the accident, a process that ordinarily takes about 18 months.

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