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Crop duster buzzes homes, sprays neighborhood with chemical

7:21 PM, Aug 22, 2011   |    comments
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"It's the only plane I've ever seen that's flown straight at me," she said.

Feller lives on Sagewater Court, a cul de sac, which dead-ends facing Ziegler Road and only a few yards away from Bob Becker's sugar beet field at 6131 Ziegler Rd.

That's where a crop duster, owned by Low Level Dusting Co. of La Salle, was spraying the sugar beets with chemicals early Saturday morning, abruptly ascending over the houses at the east end of the field.

"My eyes were burning," said Lee Bradford, a Sagewater Court resident who was standing outside shooting video of the crop duster's low passes over the neighborhood.

Some of the crop duster's chemicals sprayed the homes, coating yards with a thin gray film, which Feller said Becker told her is a "plant protectant."

"The windows were open," Feller said. "The minute you started breathing that stuff, your nose burns, you get a headache."

Worse, she said, is what could have happened if the airplane, a 1972 Grumman G-164A biplane, had lost power and crashed into homes.

"Had he not been able to pull that plane up ... he'd have flown straight through my house," she said. "He had no exit if any-thing happened. He flew down the street with his wings literally below rooftop level."

Bradford said that when the pilot saw residents taking pictures of his flying, he dropped at least three cardboard crop dusting markers on their heads while they stood at the edge of the neighborhood.

Fort Collins Police dispatch received 120 phone calls on Saturday alerting authorities about the crop duster's flying, but all the calls were referred to the Federal Aviation Administration, said Fort Collins Police spokeswoman Rita Davis.

"The FAA is investigating the incident," said agency spokesman Mike Fergus. "We will be talking with the pilot, the opera-tor, all the parties involved, such as the complainants, to see if there is any violation of FAA regulations."

FAA regulations stipulate that crop dusters must obtain prior written approval from the local governing body before dusting in congested areas. The public must also be notified through the media, and the pilot must file an operation plan with the FAA describing how the crop duster will avoid obstructions to flight, consider the emergency landing capabilities of the aircraft and coordinate with air traffic control.

Fergus would not comment about how the regulations apply in this situation, but a legal analysis by the University of Iowa says that, though the FAA does not say what a "congested area" is, the courts have ruled that even as few as two or three houses clustered together could be considered a congested area requiring the notification of authorities and filing a special flight plan.

The 154-acre sugar beet farm, which Larimer County Assessor's records show is owned by Kenneth Kechter, Ronald Ke-chter and three others, is sprayed with chemicals once each year, Becker told 9NEWS.

The Kechters could not be reached for comment.

Becker said the pilot dusted the crops just like he would have anywhere else, and he has no control over how the pilot chooses to fly. He said he didn't tell the neighbors about the dusting, but he probably should have.

A phone call to Low Level Dusting was not answered on Monday, and company president Dana Book could not be reached for comment.

Low Level Dusting does not have a spotless flying record, with two crashes involving the Grumman G-164A occurring in 1984 and 1989, according to FAA records available at AirCrashed.com. Fergus said the FAA does not provide a public database for airplane crashes more than 10 years old.

On April 6, 1987, a Low Level Dusting pilot misjudged the distance to the end of the field he was spraying, pulling up too late to avoid impact with a tree. After striking the tree, the aircraft descended out of control and crashed.

An earlier incident occurred May 18, 1984 when a mechanical failure due to poor engine maintenance caused a Low Level Dusting airplane to make hard landing. While en route to a field for chemical spraying, an oil mist appeared on the windshield and the engine lost power, forcing the pilot to land. The airplane hit a hole in the ground and rolled over its nose.

The company failed to follow manufacturer-issued service bulletins recommending repair or replacement of engine parts, which had cracked, according to the incident report.

Low Level Dusting 1987 incident: http://aircrashed.com/accident/DEN87LA087.shtml  
Low Level Dusting 1984 incident: http://aircrashed.com/accident/DEN84LA153.shtml
University of Iowa crop dusting legal analysis: http://www.calt.iastate.edu/cropdusting.html

This story written by Bobby Magill, Fort Collins Coloradoan.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)

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