An air tanker fighting a wildfire at Yosemite National Park mysteriously crashed yesterday, killing the pilot, the Los Angeles Times reports. A spokesman for the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says it's believed the pilot was alone in the plane and that he worked for DynCorp International, a contractor that provides planes to California's firefighting forces. Rescue efforts were initially hampered due to the crash site's location: the top of a 2,500-foot cliff. An FAA spokesman notes that the plane crashed "under unknown circumstances," CNN reports.
The pilot—whose name his family asked to be withheld until other loved ones are notified—was battling the Dog Rock fire, which has already raged over 130 acres and prompted park officials to evacuate at least 60 homes, notes CNN. The S-2T tanker that crashed was one of 26 that Cal Fire bought nearly 20 years ago from the Department of Defense, souping them up "with modern, powerful turboprop engines" that made them "faster, safer, and more maneuverable." The air tankers can speed around a fire site at more than 300mph and dump 1,200 gallons of fire retardant at once, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Although a wildfire expert tells the Times that the S-2Ts are "dependable," the newspaper notes that the US Forest Service has been pushing for a plane specifically designed for firefighting. (This Alaska wildfire was bigger than the city of Chicago.)