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California Decides to Ground Air Tankers After Fatal Crash

Mariposa County, California

California has decided to ground its fleet of air tankers after a firefighting pilot was killed fighting a wildfire. The fatal crash was reported on Tuesday afternoon near the west entrance of Yosemite National Park.

The pilot was attempting to drop fire retardant along the canyon wall to impede the fire's progress, when the S-2T air tanker disappeared into smoke and smashed into the canyon wall. The impact produced a loud boom that onlookers could hear from miles away. Pieces of the wreckage ended up rolling down the canyon, nearly hitting fire crews on the ground. Authorities say the pilot worked for DynCorp., a contractor that provides pilots for CalFire planes. His identity has not yet been released, due to pending notification of next of kin.

The State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection made the call on Wednesday to ground their fleet of S-2T air tankers in the wake of the crash. A spokeswoman said the "safety stand down" is normal protocol following a crash. California has 22 S-2T aircraft and it is unclear how many will be taken out of service. Other aircraft will still be utilized to battle the Yosemite blaze.

The S-2T is a single seat plane capable of dropping 1,200 gallons of fire retardant. While it is true that the S-2T has been a mainstay in U.S. firefighting fleets, some of the planes are exceedingly old, still being utilized decades after the military used them to chase down submarines. According to the Los Angeles Times, the S-2T's safety record has been the subject of scrutiny over the last few years.

Tuesday's crash marks the first air tanker crash in California since 2001, when two air tankers collided over Mendocino County. Both pilots were killed.

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