California state air tankers grounded after deadly crash

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 08, 2014 4:32 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California's 22 firefighting airplanes were kept out of the skies for evaluation on Wednesday, a day after an air tanker crashed in flames while helping quell a wildfire in Yosemite National Park, killing the pilot, officials said.

The plane slammed into the wall of a cliff above Highway 140 near a western entrance to Yosemite while deployed to fight the so-called Dog Rock Fire. Officials were trying to determine the cause of the accident.

The pilot, whose name has not been released, was the only person on board the two-engine Grumman S-2T.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's 22 other air tankers, which mostly date to the 1950s and 1960s, were grounded after the crash and were expected to stay out of the air at least through the end of Wednesday, said agency spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff.

"It’s all based on the crash. We want to make sure that all our aircraft are airworthy and that our pilots are safe as well as the citizens of California," she said.

To combat wildfires in the state while the planes are grounded, California fire officials plan to rely on air tankers operated by the U.S. Forest Service. The agency has 16 airplanes based in the state, Forest Service spokesman John Heil said.

The Dog Rock Fire has grown to over 150 acres and was raging out of control, Tolmachoff said.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators arrived on Wednesday to examine the crash scene, and the pilot's body was removed, Tolmachoff said.

The crash on Tuesday came about two years after two air crew members died when their tanker plane crashed on a forested mountainside in southwestern Utah in June 2012 while on a mission to drop chemical fire retardant on an 8,000-acre blaze near the Nevada border.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)