NTSB: Sacramento agriculture pilot killed by unseen hazard

7:27 PM, Jan 19, 2011   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, CA - The agricultural pilot killed while seeding a field in the Delta likely never saw the steel tower that caused the fatal crash, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Stephen Allen, 58, of Courtland, struck an unmarked 198-foot tower Jan. 10 that had been erected on Webb Tract in 2009 to evaluate the possible placement of wind turbines, according to the NTSB.

NTSB preliminary report

Witnesses said Allen made no attempt to evade the tower prior to the crash, according to the report.

If the meteorological evaluation tower, or MET, were just two feet taller, the Federal Aviation Administration would have required orange and white stripes and lighting.

"The fact that these towers are narrow, unmarked, and grey in color makes for a structure that is nearly invisible under some atmospheric conditions," NTSB investigator Kristi Dunks wrote in the report.

Veteran agricultural pilot Russ Stocker, 56, of Bob's Flying Service in Knights Landing said unmarked towers like METs are a source of constant worry.

"If you're standing on the ground, you'll see it.  But if you go out a half mile away.. some of this stuff becomes invisible," Stocker said.

The National Agricultural Aviation Association has lobbied the FAA to require stripes and lighting on METs below the 200 foot limit. The NAAA also advocates colored sleeves on the guy wires.

"They go up overnight. Literally overnight. And there's no central database to log their existence," said NAAA executive director Andrew Moore.

Moore said at least 24 pilots have been killed by low towers in the past decade, although not all of the towers were METs.

Moore believes energy companies have resisted attempts to publicly disclose the locations of their METs because they don't want competitors to know where they're exploring.

The FAA is seeking comments on a proposal to guide owners of METs on the marking and illuminating of the towers. The FAA called the proposal "guidance," but said it would not be mandatory.

The request for comments was posted on the Federal Register Jan. 5, five days before the crash that killed Stephen Allen.

by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net 

News10/KXTV

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