FORT MORGAN, Colo. — Authorities have identified the deceased pilot of the Air Tractor AT-802A single-propeller airplane that crashed on a night mission to drop water on the Kruger Rock Fire on Tuesday night as Mark "Thor" Olson. His colleagues in the Air Force gave him the nickname of Thor.
"We all looked up to him," said retired US Air Force Colonel, Brian "Trash" Hastings, now the director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.
Hastings and Olson flew A-10 Warthogs together in the 1990s running missions over Europe out of Germany.
"He was a straight shooter. He was a no nonsense guy," Hastings said. "When it was time to fly, fight and win, he was all about flying, fighting and winning."
Olson was part of a new mission in Europe to fly night missions in Air Force planes.
"He was part of that initial pioneering of what it meant to fly at night with night vision goggles in Europe and very strange weather conditions at times," Hastings said. "(He) set the course and trajectory for all the things that we're doing right now at night."
On the evening Olson crashed, he was pioneering a new night mission in Colorado, to fly single propeller planes at night to fight fires. The night of his death was one of the first flights on that mission.
"This was really a first-of-its-kind to fight a fire at night with night vision goggles with any sort of fixed-wing aircraft," said Steve Cowell, an aviation safety and risk management expert and owner of SRC Aviation. "It just is so unfortunate that it ended in this tragedy."
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what caused the crash on Tuesday night. Weather records show that winds around the fire that evening gusted up to 50 miles per hour.
"Ultimately, it’s always the pilots decision whether to take off," Cowell said. "(Olson) was ultimately responsible for deciding whether to take off in the conditions."
Hastings, who lives in Alabama now, said he heard about Olson's death when another A-10 colleague texted him the news.
"The A-10 community is very small. Your paths don't cross, you just kind of keep up with people," he said. "I didn't even know he was flying and putting out fires. What I do know is that he loved flying."