An air-tanker pilot killed in a crash near Yosemite National Park while battling a wildfire was identified Wednesday as a 62-year-old San Jose former naval aviator who was called a “hero” by his daughter.
Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was a 13-year veteran pilot for Dyncorp International, which operates and maintains Cal Fire’s air fleet.
“We continue to mourn the tragic loss of Craig,” Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott in a statement. “We know wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, but Craig made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Hunt’s twin-engine S-2F3AT crashed under unknown circumstances Tuesday afternoon near the Arch Rock entrance to Yosemite. Officials had lost contact with Tanker 81 while the pilot was working the Dog Rock Fire, which grew to 252 acres Wednesday and prompted evacuations.
Once rescuers were able to hike to the crash site, they found Hunt dead.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Cal Fire posted photos of Hunt on Facebook that showed him posing with his wife of 39 years, Sally, and his children, as well as fishing and standing atop a Cal Fire plane.
Hunt was born 1951 in Richmond, Indiana, according to a memorial page set up for him. He is survived by his wife and two daughters, according to a statement of condolences issued by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Capitol flags were ordered lowered to half-staff in Hunt’s honor, the governor’s office announced.
“My dad died a hero,” his daughter Sarah Hunt Lauterbach said on the memorial page. “There was not a day that went by that I didn’t talk to my dad. He was my best friend.”
Hunt served as a U.S. NavyP3 Pilot from 1975 to 1984 and was in the reserves for two decades, the memorial page stated. He earneda masters degree in business from USC, as well as a masters in biochemistry from theUC Santa Cruz, where he taught chemistry.
“He had a love for flying, golfing, fishing, hiking, bird watching, scuba diving, math/sciences, teaching, and dogs,” the page said.
Hunt’s plane was based out of Hollister Air Attack Base, about 30 miles south of San Jose, according to Cal Fire. It was manufactured in 2001, according to FAA records.
The state’s fleet of 22 Grumman S-2T air tankers were grounded in the wake of the crash, a spokesman for Cal Fire announced Wednesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were investigating.