UPDATE-October 8, 8 am PDT: It has been confirmed that the pilot perished in the crash. His name is being withheld pending the notification of next of kin.
An air tanker fighting a wildfire near Yosemite National Park crashed today about 4:30 p.m. It was reported that the plane went down within a mile of the park's west entrance (Highway 140).
The crash occurred in steep, rugged terrain in the Merced River canyon. Witnesses report seeing the plane hit the canyon wall and exploding. The condition of the pilot is unknown at this time, and no other crew members were on board.
The airplane is a 2001 S-2T air tanker with twin turbine engines. It is capable of carrying 1,200 gallons of fire retardant.
The pilot is an employee of DynCorp, which provides the pilots for Cal Fire's fixed-wing aircraft. Investigators from the National Traffic Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were expected at the scene early Wednesday.
The fire, dubbed the Dog Rock Fire, started about 3 p.m. today near Highway 140, a main entrance to Yosemite. It is about 200 acres in size and has forced the evacuations in the community of Foresta.
The last time a Cal Fire air tanker crashed was in 2001, when two tankers collided while fighting a fire in Mendocino County, killing both pilots.
In 2006, Rob Stone, a Cal Fire battalion chief who was raised in Three Rivers and whose parents still reside here, and a pilot were killed in the Tulare County mountains while in a Cal Fire spotter plane that was relaying information on a current fire to ground crews.