Rescue crews hiking through extremely rugged terrain found the wreckage and confirmed the pilot’s death several hours after the plane crashed.
The pilot’s family has requested no name be released until all immediate family members can be notified.
The plane went down about 4:30 p.m. within a mile of the park’s west entrance, he was stopping traffic along state Route 140 at the west entrance to the park when he witnessed the crash.
“I heard a large explosion, I looked up on the steep canyon wall and saw aircraft debris was actually raining down the side of the mountain after the impact,” he told The Associated Press by telephone. “It hit the steep side of the canyon wall. It appeared from the direction he was going, he was trying to make a drop down the side of the canyon when he hit the canyon wall.”
The fire was spreading up the canyon wall, and it appeared the pilot was trying to lay down fire retardant to stop its progress, Michael said.
The airplane, manufactured in 2001 and based out of Hollister, is an S-2T air tanker, which is flown by a single pilot and normally has no other crew members. The tanker uses twin turbine engines and is capable of carrying 1,200 gallons of retardant.