Crash highlights crop duster safety

We are just entering the period in the growing season when crop dusters do their work in Indiana.

July and August are the months when you are most likely to see the people who engage in aerial agriculture and their mission is oftern misunderstood.

They are not acrobatic pilots and they aren’t daredevils. What they do is big business and it can be risky.

It’s harder to find a crop duster in Indiana than in other Midwestern states. That makes it more likely that the people who see them flying low over farm fields have questions.

Jeff Elsner has been flying a crop duster out of Freeman Field in Seymour for 10 years. He’s become used to unusual encounters.

“We get complaints all the time thinking we’re dive bombing them or chasing them,” he said, “and what we’re doing is putting on a product for the farmer.”

Most often that product is fungicide that goes on corn. With the wet weather we’ve had this summer there should be a big call for crop spraying.

And so the news that a pilot was injured in Montgomery County after hitting power lines will lead other pilots to focus on safety.

There is a youtube video that shows how a pilot navigates power lines, going under them at one end of the field and over them at the other.

When asked if he has a dangerous job Elsner said, “It can be. It’s a calibrated risk.”

He has logged 7,000 hours in a crop duster with just one close call.

“The airplane just quit flying. Couldn’t figure out what it was,” he said. “We saved it before it hit the ground. Come to find out it was a natural gas leak on a big underground line and I went through the plume.”

He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It did nothing to curb his enthusiasm.

“I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s fun. It’s fun,” he said. “But after a 16 hour day doing it, it’s not so much fun.”

There is a state Agricultural Aviation Association and a national association.

They both hold safety meetings on a regular basis and Elsner says he spends much of the off season making sure that his crop duster is fully maintained.

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