Cal Fire has temporarily grounded most of its air tanker fleet Wednesday after the fatal crash late Tuesday afternoon of a plane fighting a blaze on the western edge of Yosemite National Park.
The Dog Rock Fire, the latest in a series of blazes at Yosemite this year, was reported about 2:45 p.m. Tuesday near the Arch Rock Entrance Station on Highway 140.
Among the aircraft that responded to the blaze was Tanker 81, based in Hollister, one of Cal Fire's fleet of Grumman S2-T tankers.
Numerous witnesses saw the plane crash about 5 p.m. From the Associated Press:
"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," said California Highway Patrol Sgt. Chris Michael, who was stopping traffic along state Route 140 near the west entrance of the park because of the wildfire when he saw the plane crash Tuesday afternoon.
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 told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
"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."
From the Fresno Bee:
Paul Pyle, a park employee who lives in El Portal, was outside his home taking a video of a helicopter flying overhead when the firefighting plane came into view.
"It looked like it was just totally out of control and just floating," he said. "It was coming straight down and just a second or so and then 'kaboom,' it exploded on the top of the hill and the wreckage slid down."
"I've never seen anything quite like that," said Pyle, who was still shaken Tuesday evening. "It was horrible to see."
Wednesday's safety stand-down is standard procedure after a crash, Cal Fire officials said. The agency will use the stand-down to inspect the S2-T fleet and conduct a safety review with pilots. It's not clear how long the planes will be grounded.