A single-engine, one-seat air tanker that was thought to be the first fixed-wing plane to fight a fire at night using night vision crashed near Estes Park, Colo., on Tuesday night, killing the pilot, reports 9News. According to a release from the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, the accident was first reported shortly after 6:30pm, with the crash site located about three hours later on the south end of Hermit Park. "We are sad to report that the pilot and only occupant of the aircraft did not survive," the release notes.
The Air Tractor that the pilot was flying can dump up to 14,000 gallons of water per hour, and for this flight, it was to be equipped with special infrared lighting that would have been used while the pilot donned night goggles, per the Coloradoan. The plane looks to have gone down about 30 minutes after takeoff from Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland. 9NEWS reporter Marc Sallinger says he talked to the "very excited" pilot shortly before takeoff about this flight that would "make history."
"It's a pretty cool thing to be a part of," Sallinger quoted the pilot, whom he didn't ID, as saying. "This is the culmination of about five years of pretty hard work." The wildfire, which started Tuesday morning and had burned through about 130 acres as of that evening, was apparently started by a tree blown over by high winds that then fell into a power line. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are heading up the investigation into the plane crash. (Read more plane crash stories.)