The pilot of a firefighting aircraft helping to battle a Colorado wildfire was making one final pass over the blaze Tuesday when the plane crashed, killing him, officials said.
The man, Marc Thor Olson, an Army and Air Force veteran, died after the Air Tractor AT-802A went down about 6:40 p.m., CO Fire Aviation said Wednesday.
He was conducting drops on the Kruger Rock Fire, which was burning in steep terrain too dangerous for firefighters, near the town of Estes Park, in the mountains west of Loveland, when the plane crashed, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.
The plane made one water drop and had returned with suppressant when it crashed, the sheriff’s office said.
“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 in a statement. “Moments later, at approximately 6:37 p.m., ground resources heard the plane crash.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
The Kruger Rock Fire broke out Tuesday morning southeast of Estes Park, a town of around 6,000 people about 25 miles west of Loveland. By Wednesday evening, the fire had grown to around 145 acres and was 40 percent contained.
The wildfire began after high winds blew a tree onto a power line, the sheriff’s office said. No structures have been reported damaged.
Some evacuation orders were lifted or downgraded to voluntary Wednesday, and the U.S. Forest Service said cooler weather and lighter winds were aiding firefighters.
Olson was flying the single-engine plane after nightfall using night-vision goggles, NBC affiliate KUSA of Denver reported. Olson was the only person on board.
CO Fire Aviation said Olson had more than 8,000 flight hours and 1,000 hours of night-vision flight. The company said it is fully cooperating with investigators and is deeply saddened by his loss.
Colorado had one of its worst wildfire seasons in history last year. Three of the state’s largest wildfires occurred last year, including the Cameron Peak Fire in Larimer County, the largest ever recorded, at 208,913 acres.