A Colorado Army and Air Force veteran pilot fighting the Kruger Rock Fire was killed on Tuesday night when a single-engine air tanker crashed as he used a novel nighttime firefighting method, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) said.
Marc Thor Olson, who flew for Fort Morgan-based CO Fire Aviation, reported turbulent conditions before the crash, which was first reported at about 6:37 p.m. The crash site was found by crews at around 9:49 p.m., near the south end of Hermit Park, officials said.
The pilot had been tasked to carry out aerial drops over the Kruger Rock Fire, which broke out after high winds caused a tree to fall onto a power line early on Tuesday.
After conducting a water drop on Tuesday afternoon, the pilot had said that the wind at the time “was not too bad at the fire,” and made his way back to Loveland to prepare for a second aerial drop, according to LCSO.
“About an hour later, the plane returned to the fire and the pilot told ground resources it was turbulent over the fire, conditions were not ideal to make a drop, and that he was going to make one more pass and then return to Loveland,” the sheriff’s office said. “Moments later, at approximately 6:37 p.m., ground resources heard the plane crash.”
Olson was the only person in the aircraft at the time of the crash, the sheriff’s office clarified. He was identified on Thursday by his employer CO Fire Aviation in a Facebook post, who described him as “one of our brothers.”
“Marc Thor Olson was a highly decorated veteran of both the Army and Air Force with 32 years of service to our country. During Thor’s 42 years of flight, he had amassed more than 8,000 total flight hours with an impressive 1,000 hours of NVG flight including in combat and civilian flight,” the company said in a statement.
The company said it is working with authorities and partners as a probe is carried out. The National Transportation Safety Board has said it is investigating the crash.
“While we are gravely aware of the inherent dangers of aerial fire fighting and the questions that remain; we ask that family and friends be given distance and time to process and heal as we grieve this loss. Your prayers are appreciated during this difficult time,” the company added.