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California

Daughter of pilot killed in Yosemite fire crash says he ‘died a hero’

The daughter of a veteran firefighting pilot said he “died a hero” when his air tanker crashed Tuesday while battling a wildfire near Yosemite National Park.

Geoffrey Craig Hunt was flying one of four planes being used in the initial attack on the Dog Rock fire, which as of Thursday was just 10% contained at 245 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The 62-year-old San Jose resident, who went by Craig, had been fighting wildfires throughout the state for 13 years.

“My dad died a hero,” Hunt’s daughter, Sarah Hunt Lauterbach, said in a statement. “There was not a day that went by that I didn’t talk to my dad. He was my best friend.”

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An honor guard of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials and park rangers lined each side of Highway 140 on Wednesday as her father’s body was moved from the crash site.

Hunt — a contract pilot with DynCorp International, which operates Cal Fire’s fleet of air tankers — was flying a Cal Fire S-2T fixed-wing tanker when he crashed Tuesday afternoon.

Because of the fire’s location — on the outskirts of Yosemite in El Portal — visitors and firefighters alike saw the crash.

Witnesses said the plane hit the side of the valley’s granite wall and burst into flames, engulfing the ridge in fire.

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Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said in statement that the agency continues to mourn “the tragic loss of Craig." A Cal Fire air tanker last crashed in 2006.

“We know wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, but Craig made the ultimate sacrifice,” Pimlott said.

Hunt is survived by his wife, Sally, whom he married in 1975, and two daughters.

While not fighting fires, Hunt worked as a chemistry teacher at UC Santa Cruz.

He served as a U.S. Navy P3 Pilot for nine years and was in the Naval Reserves for 20 years.

Times staff writer Diana Marcum contributed to this post.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA. She can be reached at veronica.rocha@latimes.com.

 

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