DENVER â The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the causes of the fatal single-engine air tanker crash at the Kruger Rock Fire near Estes Park on Tuesday night as the company the pilot worked for identified him as a veteran 32 years of the Air Force and the Army. .
CO Fire Aviation identified the pilot killed in the crash as Marc Thor Olson and said he was an FAA certified pilot since 1979 who has more than 8,000 flight hours and 1,000 flight hours with vision goggles night both as a civilian and in combat.
“The Co Fire Aviation family is deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic loss of one of our brothers as an oil tanker pilot,” the company said, adding it was cooperating fully with the investigation into the accident.
âWhile we are acutely aware of the inherent dangers of aerial firefighting and the questions that remain; we ask that family and friends have distance and time to process and heal while we mourn this loss. Your prayers are appreciated during this difficult time,â the company said in an emailed statement.
A biography on the company’s website said Olson was “looking forward to his second season with CO Fire Aviation as a Tier 1 pilot” after “a safe and productive first season” with the company.
Olson also trained Emirati pilots and flew several types of aircraft during his time in the military and as a civilian, according to the biography.
According to the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, the crash was reported around 6:37 p.m. The crash site was located near the south side of Hermit Park, approximately five miles from Estes Park. Olson was the sole occupant aboard the aircraft.
The plane was an Air Tractor AT-802A belonging to CO Fire Aviation, which is based in Fort Morgan, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. According to FlightAware, the plane left the Northern Colorado Regional Airport around 6:15 p.m.
Winds at the time were blowing 40 to 50 miles per hour in the crash area. The Colorado Department of Forestry said the single-engine air tanker was not flying under the state contract Tuesday night.
On Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said the sheriff’s office was still working to get answers when asked who ordered the theft, who made the decision to carry out the theft and if it was the first time a single-engine plane The tanker had flown at night in Colorado, because the state contract does not allow night flights for SEATs. Oregon tested steal SEATs at night.
The sheriff’s office said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that it contacted the CO Fire Aviation around noon Tuesday and asked if it would be able to assist with flight operations as the terrain was too difficult to access. for firefighters on the ground.
The sheriff’s office said they were indeed available and interested, and within hours the company said they were comfortable performing airdrops, the sheriff’s office said.
The aircraft departed Fort Morgan and made a successful water drop, then proceeded to Loveland Airport to refuel suppressor to make a second drop.
The sheriff’s office said the plane returned an hour later and told fire crews on the ground that it was experiencing turbulence and conditions weren’t ideal for a drop, the sheriff’s office said. . The pilot said he would make another pass over the fire before returning to Loveland.
“Moments later, at approximately 6:37 p.m., ground resources heard the aircraft crash,” the sheriff’s office wrote in its news release.
Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the plane was contracted by Larimer County and was not flying under a state contract, adding that she did not know if the accident was related to night operations.
âIt is too early to know the cause of this tragedy and if it is even related to night operations, but the DFPC, through its partnership with Larimer County, the US Forest Service, contract airline CO-Fire Aviation, the FAA and the NTSB hope to learn all we can from this tragedy to advance the safe and efficient use of aviation resources to effectively and safely respond to wildfires during the day and potential future nighttime operations. .
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said the FAA and NTSB were on the ground investigating Wednesday and the pilot’s body was found Wednesday morning.
“CO Fire Aviation has identified its pilot as Marc Thor Olson and said he is an extremely skilled veteran pilot. We send our deepest condolences to Mr. Olson’s friends and family and to CO Fire Aviation” , the sheriff’s office said.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said it began speaking with CO Fire Aviation after attending a protest in Loveland earlier this year.
The sheriff’s office said it had continued discussions with the company throughout the year and was “willing to give them the opportunity if it would benefit firefighting operations” when the air resources were exhausted.
The sheriff’s office said it reached a verbal agreement with the company on Oct. 5 and a written contract is still being negotiated.
âLCSO had contacted CO Fire Aviation regarding their services during other fires this year, but either they did not have the availability or it was decided that flight operations were not required on these fires,â said said the sheriff’s office.
âRecent technological advancements to achieve night aerial operations already used in other states have proven to be an effective tactic to help prevent medium-sized fires from exploding and growing into large series as we have seen. last year,” the sheriff’s office said.
The DFPC first used a helicopter for night firefighting operations in September on the Virginia Dale Fire, the division said, after several years of studying the possibilities and conducting trials and training. .
“The use of rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft at night, using night vision technology, is widely and successfully used by the U.S. military and in some public safety environments, but there is less research and hands-on experience with fixed-wing assets in wildfire suppression,â the DFPC said.
Colorado conducted night flight operations trials in June, July and August 2019 with helicopters using buckets â something that had never been done before in Colorado at the time â and found them potentially beneficial to the future, as no major problems were found in the water delivery. speed, communications and visuals, according to a report.
But the 2019 report also found that a âthorough risk/benefit analysisâ should be carried out before any decision to fly helicopters at night for drops of water and valuable lives, structures or property. important should be threatened for them. use.
The report, from the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting, also says more research needs to be done regarding the expansion of night vision flights for other aircraft. It came after an interim report on night firefighting came out the previous year.
“Further research may also be needed on the feasibility of using fixed-wing air tankers, including SEATs, after dark to fight fires,” the 2019 report said. could make fixed-wing aircraft more acceptable for night missions, such as synthetic vision and terrain awareness, should also be considered. This would be treated as a separate assessment.
An archived web page from the Division of Fire Prevention and Control also describes how the state handled the night helicopter program.
“Helicopter suppression work at night can add an additional element of risk to pilots and ground personnel if not planned and executed in a safe manner,” the page says. âIn specific situations, the night vision suppression capability can be applied to aerial missions performed by public safety and firefighting agencies. The use of aircraft at night during emergency incidents will improve public and firefighter safety, operational efficiency and budgetary prudence.
The blaze was 140 acres as of midday Wednesday and was 15% contained. Some evacuations were also lifted Wednesday morning. A 9News reporter talked to Olson shortly before the flight on Tuesday evening, and the company and the technology of night vision goggles were presented in a PBS report earlier this year.