Photographer captures final moments before air tanker crash outside Estes Park

Local News

ESTES PARK, Colo. (KDVR) — An Estes Park photographer is sharing what are likely some of the final photos taken before an air tanker crashed outside of Estes Park Tuesday.

The pilot, Marc Thor Olson, was later found dead

Brett Rios has been photographing Colorado wildfires for the past decade and set up on an overlook to capture the Kruger Rock Fire Tuesday evening. 

“Just as I composed it, just over the ridge, comes the air tanker,” Rios recalled. “He was just doing tight circles, and then he’d come out a ways and reposition himself for a nice long run, and then last second he’d just dive, and swoop on in.”

Rios said he was surprised to see the plane in the air, considering the winds he was battling on the ground to keep his shot steady. 

He said nothing seemed out of the ordinary with the plane until it turned onto the backside of Kruger Rock.

“So I go to get this long exposure, and this big gust of wind pushes me, and I stop clicking the button,” Rios said. “Two or three seconds later, the entire sky behind Kruger Rock lit up. It was just this bright flash, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Rios was listening to his scanner at the time and quickly realized what had happened.

“There was no smoke, there was no indication that there was anything going fowl equipment-wise,” he said. “In the blink of an eye, there was just this bright, bright light.”

Rios called emergency dispatch multiple times, helping the sheriff’s office to pinpoint where he believed the plane had gone down. 

“Bringing him home to his family is the most important thing,” he said. 

Rios said he couldn’t bring himself to look at the photos until early Wednesday morning when he realized what he had captured.

“So then I started going through them, and you’ve got this double sword where you see this beautiful image, but it’s also just moments before this person perished,” he said. “I’ve never captured anything like that before, and it’s pretty powerful, there’s a lot of emotion in it.”

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