Pilot who died fighting Estes Park fire had 42 years of flight experience
The pilot of an air tanker who died while fighting the Kruger Rock Fire outside Estes Park has been identified.
The single-engine air tanker went down in a plane crash Tuesday night. The pilot, Marc Thor Olson, was the only occupant of the aircraft and did not survive.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said the crash investigation will be led by the FAA and NTSB. According to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, the aircraft was contracted for firefighting by Larimer County.
According to reporting by 9NEWS, who interviewed Olson just before his flight, the trip was believed to be the first time a fixed-winged aircraft was used at night to fight a fire. Olson had over 42 years of flight experience, including 1,000 hours flying with night vision goggles, according to his company, CO Flight Aviation.
While the state department has studied the use of aircraft in night operations through its Center of Excellence, that research has been focused on the use of helicopters rather than fix-wing air tankers like the one involved in Tuesday’s crash. The department said that it has not extensively studied the use of fixed-wing air tankers.
“The use of rotary and fixed wing aircraft at night, using night vision technology, is widely and successfully used by the US Military and in certain public safety environments, but there is less research and practical experience with fixed wing assets in wildland fire suppression,” department officials wrote in a release.
Night suppression activities potentially offer increased advantages to suppression efforts due to lower temperatures, increased humidities and reduced winds.
The department added that it is too early to know the cause of the crash and whether it’s related to night operations.
As of Thursday morning, the fire burning southeast of Estes Park was estimated at 146 acres with 30% containment. Gusty winds and low humidity contributed to the fast spread of the blaze, which threatened several structures and forced some evacuations.
No structure damage had been reported and most occupants have been able to return to their homes.
The sheriff’s office also said that despite the gusting winds, air resources were utilized to make water and suppressant drops. Over 210 personnel were working the fire Thursday.
The sheriff’s office reported that an investigation into the cause of the fire found that high winds had blown a tree down onto a nearby powerline.
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