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Remembering the man killed fighting the Kruger Rock Fire from the air at night

Marc Thor Olson was a veteran with more than 40 years of flying experience

ESTES PARK, Colo. — He was a veteran and a pilot who’d flown thousands of hours in the sky over four decades. Tuesday, he made his final flight working to fight the Kruger Rock Fire near Estes Park.

Marc Thor Olson died when his plane crashed after he reported turbulent flying conditions over the flames.

9NEWS was with Olson when he took off from Northern Colorado Regional Airport for what was believed to be the first time a fixed-winged aircraft would be used at night to fight a fire. 

We’re choosing not to air video of the interview with him until his family lets us know whether they’d like it to be shared. 

Credit: KUSA

The plan was to wait for the sun to set. History would be made in the dark.

For the first time in Colorado, a fixed-winged aircraft would be used to fight a fire at night. Night-vision goggles were critical for the pilot, Marc Thor Olson. He told 9NEWS reporter Marc Sallinger everyone called him Thor.

“I think we’re making history here,” he said as his crew loaded up his plane with fire suppressant. 

The mission was to help put out the Kruger Rock Fire burning in Estes Park. He believed flying at night would give firefighters an edge to try and keep as many people as possible safe.

Credit: KUSA

The Air Force and Army veteran had 32 years of service to our country. Thor had done it all. 

His sister, a retired Air Force colonel herself, called him a “pilot’s pilot.” He came from a family of veterans. His dad flew in World War II.

“This is the culmination of about five years of pretty hard work,” Thor said before he stepped into the single-seat plane. “I’m a big believer in it. I’m a big proponent of it. And I think we can do it safely and effectively.” 

He wanted to be the first to make history fighting a fire with his plane at night.

It was windy in Estes Park on Tuesday. Thor still thought he could complete his mission safely and help firefighters on the ground get a hold of the fire.

Credit: KUSA

Thor said he truly believed this was the future of fire aviation. He wanted to use the new technology to help fight fires and keep people safe.

He radioed down to firefighters on the ground before the crash, telling them it was turbulent and he might have to return to the airport. Moments later, he crashed into the mountain.

Thor took off from Northern Colorado Regional Airport around 6:15 p.m. 

“It’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of,” he said before departing. 

The plane never made it back to the airport.

RELATED: Photographer captures last minutes before air tanker crashes

RELATED: Kruger Rock Fire near Estes Park now 40% contained

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