FORT COLLINS, Colo .– The pilot who died Tuesday night when his specially equipped single-engine firefighting plane crashed while working on the Kruger Rock Fire told his ground crew that the air was turbulent and that ‘He was going to make another pass before returning to the airport, authorities said.
Veteran pilot Marc Thor Olson never returned as that same ground crew, moments after their last call, heard Olson’s plane crash during this last pass southeast of Estes Park.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, which had enlisted the pilot’s help in fighting the blaze, released those details and more on Wednesday afternoon.
“About an hour later, the aircraft returned to the fire and the pilot told ground resources that there was turbulence above the fire, that the conditions were not ideal for making a drop. , and that he was going to make another 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 fight the blaze as a strong wind precluded air support and steep terrain prevented firefighters from working on the ground.
The company said it had a pilot and a plane. This flight was believed to be the first time a Colorado pilot has used a fixed-wing aircraft to fight a fire.
The sheriff’s office and CO Fire Aviation discussed fire behavior and weather conditions, including strong and gusty winds, the statement said. Hours later, the company said it was checking the weather and crosswinds at the fire and was comfortable performing air drops.
Related:Pilot killed in firefighting plane crash near Kruger Rock Fire, Colorado
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According to FlightAware, the Air Tractor AT-802 left Fort Morgan Municipal Airport at 3:30 p.m. The sheriff’s office said it was loaded with water and was heading towards the blaze.
Olson managed to drop a load of water on the fire and the pilot reported that the wind was “not too bad for the fire.“ and said he would travel to Loveland to get a suppressor charge to make a second drop. He arrived at Loveland Airport at 4:38 p.m., according to FlightAware.
He left on a second trip to the fire at 6:10 p.m. Once back on fire, Olson told ground resources that there was turbulence from the fire, conditions were not ideal for a fall, and he was going to make another pass before return.
At approximately 6:37 p.m., ground resources heard the plane crash. Immediately, a search began for the wreckage, which was about a mile from the fire.
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Olson’s body was found in the wreckage on Wednesday morning and the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the crash scene to begin their investigation, the sheriff’s office said.
CO Fire Aviation said in a Facebook post that the company is cooperating fully with relevant authorities and partners during the investigation and is “keenly aware of the dangers inherent in combating air fires and the issues that remain. “.
The Sheriff’s Office began talks with CO Fire Aviation about its services in May after a protest at Loveland Airport showed the ability of its planes and pilots to fight fires at night using qualified pilots with night vision goggles.
The sheriff’s office entered into a verbal “call when needed” contract with the company on Oct. 5. A written contract is still being negotiated, the statement said. The company has signed a five-year contract with the State of Colorado for its services.
The Kruger Rock Fire is the first time the Sheriff’s Office has used the services of CO Fire Aviation.
The sheriff’s office had contacted the company about its services during other fires this year, but the company did not have availability or flight operations were not required on these fires.
The sheriff’s office said it sought the services of the company, including night flight operations after last year’s nearly 209,000-acre Cameron Peak fire became the largest in the history of the state and during which several large fires destroyed structures.
He said recent technological advancements in performing night air operations already in use in other states have proven to be an effective tactic to help prevent medium-sized fires from exploding.
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