'I Think We're Making History,' Pilot Said. Then He Crashed

Marc Olson died Tuesday during pioneer mission to battle Colorado wildfire at night
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 18, 2021 10:40 AM CST

A pilot who'd flown for 42 years—32 of those spent in the Army and Air Force—died Tuesday during a pioneering effort to fight a Colorado wildfire at night. Marc Thor Olson of CO Fire Aviation successfully completed a water drop over the Kruger Rock Fire in Larimer County's Estes Park, which erupted early Tuesday after a tree fell on a power line, then returned for a second drop about an hour later. This time, "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 Larimer County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday, per the Denver Post. "Moments later, at approximately 6:37pm, ground resources heard the plane crash."

"I think we're making history here," Olson told 9News before the crash. Nighttime helicopters, apparently first used to battle fires during Australia's 2019-2020 bushfire season, were deployed to fight the Virginia Dale Fire in Larimer Country in September. But this was reportedly the first time a fixed-wing plane outfitted with night-vision equipment would be used to battle a wildfire at night in Colorado. CO Fire Aviation had tested this method with the Oregon Department of Forestry and Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Aerial Fire reported in March 2020. Olson told the outlet that white phosphor night-vision goggles allowed him to see fire hot spots better than in daylight. He'd used night-vision goggles over 1,000 of more than 8,000 flight hours, per the Post.

Olson's flight was the company's first mission for Larimer County, which entered into a verbal "call when needed" contract with the company in October, per the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Marc Sallinger of 9News shared a photo of Olson preparing his plane about an hour before it went down. The wreckage was located three hours later, and Olson's body was recovered Wednesday morning. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating why the plane went down and "nothing has been ruled out at this stage," CO Fire Aviation said Wednesday, per the Post. It added "weather and wind conditions were reported to be within limits of our company standard operating procedures." The Kruger Rock Fire had spread to 145 acres and was 40% contained as of Wednesday night. (More plane crash stories.)

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