Marc Thor Olson

Colorado Fire Aviation has identified the pilot of a firefighting plane who was killed Tuesday night in a crash near Estes Park as Marc Thor Olson.

The pilot killed in a plane crash near Estes Park while battling the Kruger Rock fire has been identified as Marc Thor Olson, according to Colorado Fire Aviation, the company that owned the aircraft.

The plane Olson was piloting went down near the south end of Hermit Park just before 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. 

"The CO Fire Aviation family is deeply saddened by the sudden, tragic loss of one of our brothers serving as a tanker pilot," officials said in a statement on Facebook.

Olson was described as a highly decorated veteran who served for 32 years in both the U.S. Army and Air Force. He began flying planes in 1979 and amassed more than 8,000 total flight hours and 1,000 hours of night flight, including in combat and civilian fight, according to the statement. 

Tuesday night's operation was believed to be the first-of-its-kind in the United States, where a fixed-winged aircraft was being used to attack a fire at night using night vision goggles, according to Gazette news partner 9News

Olson told 9News he was excited to make "history" with the Tuesday flight.

"Pretty cool thing to be apart of, I think," Olson told the TV station before taking off from Northern Colorado Regional Airport. "This is the culmination of about five years of pretty hard work."

The Larimer County Sheriff's Office had reached out to Colorado Fire Aviation to see if the Fort Morgan-based company would help with firefighting operations. 

Several hours later, the plane made a successful drop of water on the fire zone, and Olson reported the winds were "not too bad at the fire and said he would head to Loveland to get a load of suppressant to make a second drop," according to a release from the sheriff's office.

About an hour later, Olson reported that the air was turbulent above the fire and because of the conditions he could not make the drop. He said he was going to make one more pass and then return to Loveland, but around 6:37 p.m. crews heard the plane crash.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control said on Wednesday that it has been studying the use of aircraft in night operations on woodland fires at its center in Rifle. 

Through its studies, the organization found that aerial support at night potentially offers increased advantages in fighting a wildfire because of low temperatures, increased humidity and reduced winds. However, most of the studies focused on helicopters and not fixed-winged aircraft, according to a release. 

"The use of rotary and fixed wing aircraft at night, using 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," officials said in a release. 

Tuesday night's crash wasn't the first time a fixed-wing air tanker crashed while responding to a wildfire. In 2002, a four-engine, World War II vintage PB4y crashed on July 18, while dropping retardant on a 4,100-acre fire near Estes Park, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined the cause of that crash was fatigue cracks that caused the wings to snap off. 

Six years later, firefighting pilot Gert Marais of Fort Benton, Mont., was killed when his single-engine plane crashed after dumping fire retardant at Fort Carson, according to a 9News report. 

Colorado Fire Aviation said it is cooperating with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board as the agencies investigate the crash. 

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