Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Boss, N802NZ: Fatal accident occurred November 16, 2021 in Estes Park, Larimer County, Colorado

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. 

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Denver, Colorado

CO Fire Aviation Inc

Location: Estes Park, Colorado 
Accident Number: CEN22FA035
Date and Time: November 16, 2021, 18:36 Local
Registration: N802NZ
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 137: Agricultural

On November 16, 2021, about 1836 mountain standard time, an Air Tractor Inc. AT-802A, N802NZ, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Estes Park, Colorado. The pilot received fatal injuries. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 137 aerial application flight.

Video of the airplane showed the airplane wing’s rocking as it approached the intended drop location for the aerial firefighting of the Kruger Rock fire. Two witnesses stated that they saw the airplane roll inverted and did not see it descend into terrain. One of the witnesses, who was in radio communication with the pilot, stated that he did not hear the pilot transmit any problems with the airplane nor make any distress calls prior to the accident.

The airplane wreckage was upright and displayed features of a low-speed, nose-down impact with sloping and wooded terrain. There was no ground scarring that preceded the wreckage.

The wreckage did not display asymmetric wing damage consistent with yaw/bank on impact, and there was to lateral displacement of the empennage consistent with yaw on impact. The propeller exhibited torsional bending/twisting.

The wreckage was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: AIR TRACTOR INC
Registration: N802NZ
Model/Series: AT-802A 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built:
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Agricultural aircraft (137)
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC 
Condition of Light: Night
Observation Facility, Elevation: 
Observation Time:
Distance from Accident Site: 
Temperature/Dew Point:
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: / ,
Lowest Ceiling:
Altimeter Setting:
Type of Flight Plan Filed:
Departure Point: Fort Collins, CO (FNL) 
Destination: Estes Park, CO

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries:
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal 
Latitude, Longitude: 40.3351,-105.4774 (est)

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email You can also call the NTSB Response Operations Center at 844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290.
Marc "Thor" Olson 

FORT MORGAN, Colorado — Local law enforcement agencies have planned an escort for the pilot who was killed while battling the Kruger Rock Fire.

Fallen Aerial Firefighter Marc "Thor" Olson died on November 16 after his Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Boss crashed.

Olson was a 32-year veteran of the Air Force and Army. He had been an FAA-certified pilot since 1979, who had logged more than 8,000 flight hours and 1,000 hours of flying with night vision goggles, both as a civilian and in combat, according to CO Fire Aviation, the company Olson worked for.

Several fire apparatuses and other emergency vehicles will come together Monday, November 22 as Olson is transported from the Larimer County Coroner's Office to Fort Morgan Heer Mortuary.

Organizers believe the procession will leave Larimer County at or around 10 a.m.

The route will be Highway 34 from Loveland through Greenley to I-76 at Wiggins. From Wiggins, the procession will take I-76 east to the Highway 34 exit then into Fort Morgan on Platte Avenue.

The procession is expected to be in the Wiggins-area between 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

Multiple agencies will take part in the escort, including Fort Morgan Police Department, Morgan County Sheriff's Office, Colorado State Patrol and Wiggins Fire Department.

Fort Morgan residents are asked to be patient as minor traffic delays, along with closed streets and intersections, are expected.

Marc Thor Olson, 59, was the pilot of the Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Boss that took off for a first-of-its-kind mission for nighttime firefighting in Colorado on Tuesday night.

Marc Thor Olson

Colorado's first foray into the emerging technology of using fixed-wing aircraft to fight wildfires at night ended in tragedy Tuesday when a specially equipped plane crashed in rugged terrain near Estes Park, killing its pilot.

CO Fire Aviation identified its pilot killed in the crash as Marc Thor Olson. In a post on Facebook, the company said Olson was a highly decorated veteran of the Army and Air Force with 32 years of service and that he had amassed more than 8,000 total flight hours with 1,000 hours of night vision goggle flying, including in combat and in his civilian life.

"Our family is deeply saddened by the sudden, tragic loss of one of our brothers,'' the post stated. "We ask that family and friends be given distance and time to process and heal as we grieve this loss.''

In the post, the company said it 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.''

Olson was the pilot and sole occupant of the Air Tractor AT-802 in the crash, according to a previous release by the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.

The Fort Morgan-based operation is among a handful of pioneering companies using new technology to fight wildfires at night. It demonstrated the plane's capabilities during a demonstration in May at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport, from which Tuesday's flight took off. 

The cause of the crash is being investigated by National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration.

Ben Miller, director of Grand Junction-based Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting, said the crash was heartbreaking and that the aviation community lost a friend.

"There are some new things we try for all the right reasons and after all the correct processes and yet it turns out with the worst scenario,'' Miller said. "We should look at the pilot as a hero for his willingness to advance technology and honor the sacrifice he made.''

Here is how the crash unfolded and a look at the new technology's pros and cons. 

Weather conditions caused problems

The fire started about 7 a.m. Tuesday due to strong wind downing power lines. By noon Tuesday, the northwest wind was variable at 5 to 13 mph and gusting to 25 to 34 mph, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder. Wind was gusting to an estimated 45 mph along the ridges near Kruger Rock, where the fire started.

The wind prevented the use of aerial support to fight the fire during the day, and steep, wooded terrain and swirling winds prevented firefighters from battling the blaze from the ground.

Fortunately, the northwest wind was blowing the fire away from the southeast edge of Estes Park and didn't imminently threaten structures. But the fire prompted the sheriff's office to issue mandatory evacuations of nearby residents and businesses, and Estes Park High School was closed.

By late afternoon, the wind helped the fire crest the ridgeline and push it east onto Roosevelt National Forest ground toward U.S. Highway 36, where some businesses and residential subdivisions were evacuated.

Fire command told the Coloradoan the forecast was for the wind to subside by late Tuesday afternoon, which might allow for aerial support.

The weather service had issued a red flag warning for much of the Front Range until 5 p.m. Tuesday. The warning area was near but did not include Larimer County.

Tracking the flight

Larimer County was in command of the fire and requested the use of the Air Tractor AT-802 owned by CoFire Aviation, with which the county has a verbal "call when needed'' contract for its services, a sheriff's office spokesperson confirmed.

FlightAware shows the plane left Fort Morgan Municipal Airport at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, arriving at the Loveland airport at 4:38 p.m. It then left for its first fire mission at 6:13 p.m. and contact was lost at 6:36 p.m.

Flightradar24 shows the plane left the airport and circled in the fire area several times before it crashed.

The National Weather Service in Boulder said its data indicated wind in the area at the time of the crash to be from the northwest at 17 mph, gusting to 34 mph.

The sheriff's office said the wreckage was located at 9:49 p.m. in the vicinity of the south end of Hermit Park.

The park is home to the county-managed Hermit Park Open Space, which is about 2 to 3 miles southeast of Estes Park and about a mile from where the Kruger Rock Fire started. It sits among ponderosa pine forests and meadows at 7,880 to 8,964 feet with Kruger Rock jutting upward to 9,400 feet.

New technology comes with risk, rewards

Co Fire Aviation co-founders Chris Doyle and Kyle Scott first started looking at the possibility of conducting night firefighting operations in 2010, according to an article in Aerial Fire magazine.

According to the article, Olson was in charge of designing "an intensive training program'' and selecting the latest technology to aid in mission safety, which most notably came with advances in night vision goggles to help pilots see better.

In 2017, the company began testing of the technology with the Oregon Department of Forestry, with whom it signed a contract for its services.

That same year, it signed a five-year contract with the state of Colorado to provide on-call aerial firefighting services.

The Division of Fire Prevention and Control stated in its Wednesday release that the plane that crashed was contracted by Larimer County and that it was "not a state-owned aircraft or an aircraft flying under a state contract.''

The agency said it has conducted studies of the use of aircraft in night operations on wildland fire through its Center of Excellence in Rifle.

In a 9News interview in May before the demonstration in Loveland, company spokesperson Zachery Sullivan said the plane drops retardant from an altitude of 60 to 80 feet, adding, "That is pretty close to the ground, day or night.''

He went on to address the misconception of a pilot's vision during nighttime operations.

"There's all these things out there that could cause an accident. You can see them better at night than you can during the day,'' said Sullivan, a tanker pilot. "A power line is extremely difficult to see during the day. We always look for the power poles, not the power lines, but with this technology we see the lines.''

In addition to night vision goggles, the technology includes using airplanes with infrared lights and people on the ground with lasers to direct drop zones.

Despite the inherent risks, some experts say the technology is accurate, effective and safe because night flying usually involves less wind and cooler temperatures, and because fire conditions usually subside at night.

Helicopters have been used in night fire suppression operations for several years before fixed-wing aircraft began flying the missions.

Miller pointed out the U.S. Department of Defense has used the technology during "millions of hours of flight time.''

"The concept of putting aircraft at high speed close to the ground and releasing stuff from aircraft at night is nothing new,'' he said. "Close air support in either case is similar.''

Marc Thor Olson

Olson was a highly decorated veteran of both the Army and Air Force with 32 years of service to our country.  During Olson’s 42 years of flight service, he had amassed more than 8,000 total flight hours with an impressive 1,000 hours of NVG flight including in combat and civilian flight.

CO Fire Aviation Inc

The Co Fire Aviation family is deeply saddened by the sudden, tragic loss of one of our brothers serving as a tanker pilot. Marc Thor Olson was a highly decorated veteran of both the Army and Air Force with 32 years of service to our country. During Thor’s 42 years of flight, he had amassed more than 8,000 total flight hours with an impressive 1,000 hours of NVG flight including in combat and civilian flight. 

Co Fire maintains a close working relationship with multi regulatory agencies and is fully cooperating with the proper authorities and partners during this investigation. 

While we are gravely aware of the inherent dangers of aerial fire fighting and the questions that remain; we ask that family and friends be given distance and time to process and heal as we grieve this loss. Your prayers are appreciated during this difficult time.

Any questions can be directed to company PIO at

CO Fire Aviation Inc

ESTES PARK, Colorado — A pilot fighting the Kruger Rock Fire was killed when a single-engine air tanker crashed Tuesday night, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office (LCSO) said. 

The sheriff's office said the crash was first reported around 6:37 p.m. Crews were immediately deployed to search the area. 

Around 9:49 p.m., crews found the crash site near the south end of Hermit Park, which is off Highway 36 south of Estes Park. 

The sheriff's office said the pilot, and only occupant of the plane, did not survive.

Marc 'Thor' Olson was identified by Colorado Fire Aviation on Thursday as the pilot.

In a Facebook post, the company said Olson had flown for 42 years, amassing more than 8,000 total flight hours. The post said Olson served for 32 years in both the Army and Air Force and was a highly-decorated veteran.

The flight was believed to be the first time in the U.S. that a fixed-winged aircraft was being used to fight a fire at night using night vision goggles.

9NEWS was at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport Tuesday afternoon with Olson and ground crew before the plane took off. 

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

"Pretty cool thing to be a part of, I think," he told 9NEWS before taking off from the airport. "This is the culmination of about five years of pretty hard work."

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are leading an investigation into the crash. 

The Kruger Rock Fire was first reported around 7 a.m. As of Tuesday evening, it has burned about 140 acres and is 15% contained. 

LCSO spokesperson David Moore said it appears the fire started when high winds knocked over a tree, which fell onto a power line. 

Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for several neighborhoods in the fire area. 

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  1. Very sad. I have been very familiar with Estes Park / RMNP terrain and highly variable conditions all my life as I grew up spending a lot of time in my family's second home there and hiking/biking the area. With 35 years of private and commercial flight experience, it is hard for me to imagine anyone thinking that very-low-level drops in that terrain, with fire-induced conditions present in addition to the already squirrely atmospheric conditions created by the terrain extremes at that altitude and no way to measure, predict, and respond to those in real-time, would be a reasonable-risk operation.

  2. Just so sad, my condolences go out to the family, and friends of the deceased pilot. Aerial firefighting is dangerous enough, but at night, in high terrain, with high winds, and while wearing night vision googles. I'm just left shanking my head.

  3. Thor was an outstanding A-10 pilot who had numerous hours of night flying with NVGs. God rest your sole brother. Blue skies and tailwinds....

  4. Orbited quite a bit before the crash:

    Topo map, you can go to the right and zoom in/out at Hermit Park:

  5. He was interviewed by Fox31 just minutes before he died.

  6. Oregon Department of Forestry's efforts on night SEAT operation development with CO Fire Aviation included practicing at Grant County Airport in July 2019 as Phase 1 with intentions of proceeding to doing practice drops in forested areas. Phase 2 in 2020 was intended to lead to operational deployment.

    Would be interesting to learn about the ODF operations plan for night SEAT operation developed from that program, particularly as regards terrain and wind considerations established in their operating protocols.

    Video from July 2019 nightime practice at Grant County Airport:

    Press releases:
    July 21st, 2020:
    August 5th, 2020:


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