DENVER — New details have been released detailing what may have happened moments before a single-engine air tanker crashed while fighting the Kruger Rock Fire.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report into the accident that occurred at approximately 6:36 p.m. on Nov. 16 near Estes Park. The NTSB said the report is subject to change as the investigation continues.
According to the report, video of the AT802 Air Tractor showed its wing was rocking as it approached the intended drop location in its firefighting efforts.
Two witnesses reported that they saw the plane “roll inverted” but did not see that it descended into the ground, the report says.
One witness, who was in radio communication with the pilot, said he didn’t hear him transmit any problems with the plane or make any distress calls before the accident, according to the report.
The wreckage was found upright with indication of a low-speed, nose-down impact into a sloping and wooded area, the report says. There was no ground scarring that preceded the wreckage.
CO Fire Aviation identified the pilot killed in the crash as Marc Thor Olson, an FAA-certified pilot since 1979 with more than 8,000 flight hours and 1,000 hours of flying with night vision goggles both as a civilian and in combat. The night of the crash, Olson was conducting one of the first missions to fight fires using a single propeller plane at night.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office previously confirmed that it had reached out to CO Fire Aviation to see if it could assist with firefighting efforts the day of the crash, and the company said it was comfortable doing drops. Olson left Fort Morgan and performed a successful drop and then headed to the Loveland airport to load up with suppressant to make a second drop, the sheriff’s office said.
When the plane returned, Olson told fire crews on the ground he was experiencing turbulence and that conditions were not ideal for a drop, but he would make one more pass on the fire before returning to Loveland, the sheriff’s office said.
Moments later, crews heard the crash, according to the sheriff’s office. Winds at the time were gusting 40 to 50 miles per hour in the area.
The wreckage from the crash was retained so it can be further examined. A final report will be released once the investigation is complete.
The Kruger Rock Fire was fully contained at 147 acres on Nov. 20. Firefighters called the fire controlled as of Nov. 29.