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Air tanker crashes fighting Yosemite fire

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. - An air tanker fighting a wildfire near Yosemite National Park in Northern California crashed Tuesday, but there was no immediate word on the state of the plane or the pilot, who was the only person aboard, officials said.

The plane went down at about 4:30 p.m. within a mile of the park's west entrance, Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said. Rescue crews were working their way through difficult terrain to reach the downed plane.

"What we're trying to do right now with the remaining light is to get some of our rangers to the scene," Gediman said.

The airplane is an S-2T air tanker, which is flown by a single pilot and has no other crew members.

CBS Sacramento reports it's usually one of the initial planes used in a firefight like this. There are 23 strategically placed across the state.

The tanker uses twin turbine engines and is capable of carrying 1,200 gallons of fire retardant, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"Please keep our pilot in your thoughts and prayers," Berlant said in a statement.

He did not know the age of the aircraft or details on the pilot and the pilot's experience in flying the aircraft.

"We're still trying to determine all the vital details," Berlant told The Associated Press by phone. "We have not been able to confirm anything via the radio with the pilot."

It was unclear if the pilot was flying to or from the fire or was in the process of dropping retardant, Berlant said.

The fire began Tuesday afternoon near state Highway 140, which leads into the heart of the park. It had grown to about 130 acres by Tuesday evening and forced the evacuation of several dozen homes near the community of Foresta.

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