Southern California

“We Are Broken in Sorrow and Grief”: Chaplain at Funeral For Air Tanker Pilot Who Died Fighting Yosemite Fire

Almost 700 mourners came to say goodbye to a longtime pilot who died this month fighting the Dog Rock Fire in Yosemite when his air tanker crashed into a mountainside.

"We are broken in sorrow and in grief," said volunteer police and fire Chaplain Lupe Phillips as the service for Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt, 62, of San Jose began on Tuesday at the Chapel of the Hill Church on Sands Road.

A large screen with a CalFire badge, marked with a black stripe - greeted mourners as they entered the San Jose church. Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" played in the background as a slideshow of Hunt's life played. The images showed his wedding to his wife, Sally, in 1975, and his daughters, Sarah Hunt Lauterbach and Nancy Hunt; holding a freshly caught fish in the river and a rifle at a separate hunting trip; smoking a cigar while boating; and several other family shots with an extended crew of relatives. Hunt worked for Dyncorp and had flown for CalFire for 13 years.

Hunt Lauterbach got emotional as she described her father as a man who loved to teach her about steelhead trout and to ponder what the Earth looked like from 10,000 feet above the ground.

Hunt was killed Oct. 7 when his 1950s-era Cal Fire Tanker 81 had crashed into a mountainside near Arch Rock. Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board investigators said in preliminary findings that the tanker likely clipped a tree, which caused its wing to separate from the plane.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott described 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 earlier. "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."

A native of Indiana, 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.

According to his Cal Fire family, Hunt loved flying, golfing, fishing, hiking, bird watching, scuba diving, math and sciences, teaching and dogs.

"Craig Hunt made a difference," said longtime friend Dave Bayley. "Craig Hunt made the world a better place."

Expressions of sympathy or condolences for the family or the local can be sent to The Hunt Family, c/o CAL FIRE Firefighters Local 2881, 1731 J St., Ste. 200, Sacramento, CA 95816. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to G. Craig Hunt Memorial Fund, Ashville School, 360 Ashville School Road, Ashville, NC 28806.

NBC Bay Area's Marianne Favro contributed to this report.

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