Former Air Force pilot remembers Marc Olson as pioneer, leader
FORT MORGAN, Colo .– Authorities have identified the deceased pilot of the Air Tractor AT-802A single-propeller plane that crashed during a nighttime mission to drop water on the Kruger Rock blaze on Tuesday evening under the name of Mark “Thor” Olson. His Air Force colleagues gave him the nickname Thor.
“We all admired him,” said retired US Air Force Col. Brian “Trash” Hastings, now director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.
Hastings and Olson together flew A-10 Warthogs in the 1990s, flying missions over Europe from Germany.
âHe was a straight shooter. He was a sane guy,â Hastings said. “When it was time to steal and fight and win, he was about stealing and fighting and winning.”
Olson was part of a new mission to Europe to perform night missions in Air Force planes.
âHe was part of that initial pioneer of what it meant to fly at night with night vision goggles in Europe and sometimes very strange weather conditions,â Hastings said. “(He) set the course and the course of all the things that we are doing right now at night.”
The night Olson crashed, he was pioneering a new nighttime 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 this mission.
âIt was truly the first of its kind to fight a fire at night with night vision goggles with any type of fixed-wing aircraft,â said Steve Cowell, aviation safety and risk management expert and owner. by SRC Aviation. “It’s so unfortunate that it ended in this tragedy.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the causes of Tuesday night’s crash. Weather records show that the winds around the fire that evening were gusting up to 50 miles per hour.
âAt the end of the day, it’s always the pilots’ decision to take off,â said Cowell. “(Olson) was ultimately responsible for deciding whether to take off under the conditions.”
Hastings, who now lives in Alabama, said he heard about Olson’s death when another colleague at A-10 texted him the news.
âThe A-10 community is very small. Your paths don’t cross, you just follow the pace of the people,â he said. “I didn’t even know he was flying and putting out fires. What I do know is he loved to fly.”