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Three Dead In Air Tanker Crash

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An air tanker fighting a blaze north of Yosemite National Park caught fire and crashed in the Sierra resort town of Walker, California, killing all three crew members on board.

Authorities and witnesses say the plane crashed south of Coleville High School and came within a few hundred feet of hitting a mechanic´s shop on the north side of Walker.

Walker is located about 62 miles northeast of Sonora. A Reno television station captured the tragic scene on videotape about three o´clock this afternoon as the wings broke off, the fuselage rolled left and spiraled nose first into the ground.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Hawthorne, California, confirms all three crew members of the U.S. Forest Service C-130 transport plane were killed in the crash. Jerry Johnston says the plane was destroyed by impact and by fire. He says it went down after making a drop of retardant.

Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board are on the way to the scene.

Other aircraft battling the fire have been grounded. High winds had grounded tankers and helicopters Sunday.

Terri Russell, a reporter for KOLO-TV in Reno who witnessed the crash, says one of the plane´s wings was on fire before the tanker lost altitude and crashed within 150 feet of an auto shop. The tanker was battling an eight-thousand-acre blaze that had forced 400 people out of their homes in Walker, which is 90 miles south of Reno, Nevada, and about 25 miles north of Yosemite. At least one home has burned.

KOLO-TV´s news crew was interviewing a man watching the skies with his own camcorder near Walker Sporting Goods Mobile Home Park when the plane came into view.

The plane came in low to the ground trailing a red flow of fire retardant above tall green pines. Both wings suddenly snapped off, with flashes of flame as they separated. The fuselage rolled left and spiraled nose first into the ground. The fire from the crash threatened about 10 structures in the immediate area, including homes, trailers and the mechanic´s shop.

The wildfire is reported to be 10 percent contained.