The pilot who died this month fighting the Dog Rock Fire in Yosemite when his air tanker crashed most likely hit a tree with its wing, which separated from the airplane, investigators say.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators said in preliminary findings released Wednesday that that assessment came from a crew member of another airplane also fighting the fire.
Air tanker pilot Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt, 62, of San Jose, was killed Oct. 7 when his 1950s-era Cal Fire Tanker 81 had crashed into a mountainside near Arch Rock.
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Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said in a statement that what firefighters do by air is a dangerous job.
"Aerial firefighting is not simply flying from one airport to another. The wildland firefighting environment is a challenging one, both on the ground and in the air," he said. "We look forward to the final NTSB report to see if we can use the findings to help mitigate the inherent dangers of the job. We owe that to Craig, who traded his life in an effort to protect the lives of others."
Hunt was a contractor for Dyncorp, who worked for Cal Fire for 13 years. He is survived by his wife, Sally, whom he married in September 1975, and his children.
"My dad died a hero," one of his daughters, Sarah Hunt Lauterbach, said in a statement. "There was not a day that went by that I didn't talk to my dad."
Hunt served as a U.S. Navy P3 Pilot from 1975 to 1984 and was in the reserves for 20 years. He earned a masters in business from the University of Southern California and a masters in biochemistry from the University of Santa Cruz, and served as a chemistry teacher in the off-season at the University of Santa Cruz.
He had a love for flying, golfing, fishing, hiking, bird watching, scuba diving, math/sciences, teaching and dogs.