FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The pilot who died Tuesday night when his specially equipped firefighting single-engine plane crashed while working the Kruger Rock Fire told his ground crew the air was turbulent and he was going to make one more pass before returning to the airport, authorities said.
Veteran pilot Marc Thor Olson never returned as that same ground crew, moments after his last communication, heard Olson’s plane crash on that final pass southeast of Estes Park.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, which had requested the pilot’s help in fighting the fire, released those details and more Wednesday afternoon.
“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, according to the Denver Post.
The sheriff’s office contacted Fort Morgan-based CO Fire Aviation to see if they would send a plane to battle the blaze because strong wind prevented aerial support and steep terrain prevented firefighters from working on the ground.
According to the company, they have a pilot and a plane. The flight was believed to be the first time a pilot in Colorado used a fixed-wing aircraft to fight a fire.
According to the release, the sheriff’s office met with CO Fire Aviation about the weather and fire behavior. This included gusty winds and strong winds. They said that the crew was comfortable with making air drops after checking weather and crosswinds.
Related:Colorado: Pilot dies in a plane accident while fighting fires near Kruger Rock Fire
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According to FlightAware, the Air Tractor AT-802 left the Fort Morgan Municipal Airport at 3:30 p.m. According to the sheriff, it was carrying water in its cargo and headed for the fire.
Olson was able to drop a lot of water onto the fire, and the pilot said that the wind wasn’t too strong at the fire.“He said that he was going to Loveland for a dose of suppressant in order to do a second one. He arrived at the Loveland airport at 4:38 p.m., according to FlightAware.
He left for a second trip to the fire at 6:10 p.m. Once back at the fire, Olson 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 before returning.
At about 6:37 p.m., ground resources heard the plane crash. Immediately, a search began for the wreckage, which was located about a mile from the fire.
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The body of Olson was found in the wreckage on Wednesday morning. On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAR) and National Transportation Safety Board arrived to start their investigations.
CO Fire Aviation said in a Facebook post that the company is fully cooperating with the proper authorities and partners during the investigation and that it is “gravely aware of the inherent dangers of aerial fire fighting and the questions that remain.”
The sheriff’s office began talks with CO Fire Aviation about its services in May after a demonstration at the Loveland airport showed the ability of its planes and pilots to fight fires at night using skilled pilots with night vision goggles.
On Oct. 5, the sheriff’s department entered into a verbal contract “call whenever needed” with the company. According to the release, a written contract is being negotiated. According to the release, the company has signed a 5-year contract for Colorado’s services.
This is the first use of CO Fire Aviation by the sheriff’s department for the Kruger Rock Fire.
The sheriff’s office had reached out to the company about its services during other fires this year but the company either did not have the availability or air operations were not needed on those fires.
According to the sheriff’s office, the agency requested the services of the company. Night air operations were needed after the Cameron Peak Fire that scorched nearly 29,000 acres in the state last year. Several large fires also destroyed structures.
The technology used in night operations in other states to prevent small-sized fires and explosions has been improved.
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