Safety concerns arise for crop duster pilots after latest deadly crash

Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 8:10 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The National Transportation Safety Board started it’s investigation into the crash that claimed the life of a pilot in Cheneyville on August 2. That deadly crop duster crash in Rapides Parish is just the latest crash involving a crop duster.

Using planes for agricultural purposes is not a new practice in Southwest Louisiana.

“It’s key to our food and fiber, to have agricultural aircraft. A lot of things happen that are crop-sensitive or time-sensitive to that crop, so you have to have that aircraft to go out there and take care of that. We can do it faster and cover a larger area than trying to do it with a tractor,” Dwayne O’Brien, a local pilot, said.

O’Brien said because these aircraft fly so low to the ground, decisions must be made quickly in an emergency.

“Aviation by itself is inherently dangerous. You add the agricultural aspect of it, where you’re flying in lower proximity to the ground, you don’t have the time to react, you’ve got to react quickly to the situation that occurs for emergency procedure operation. The primary thing you have to do is recognize and define the problem before it occurs, but being that low to the ground, the reaction time is very very short,” O’Brien said.

There are plenty of factors that can cause issues for the pilots at such a low altitude and the weather.

“Pilots, as far as safety factors go, they’ve got their personal protective gear, they have their flight suits, some of them are fire retardant, they wear an aviator helmet, crash worthy helmet which is required. We’ve got air bags installed on the newer aircraft, which we have on ours. We’ve got wire cutting devices on the aircraft on the landing gear, we’ve got ballistic windshields installed on the aircraft for birds that will come through. There are as many things as we can do. If it’s out there, safety-wise, we get it we do it. It’s just one of those things you have to do to protect the pilot and that’s the main thing, just safety and to bring that guy home tonight,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said he always tells his pilots “be safe fly safe” when they leave the hangars.

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