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Low Visibility Blamed in Crop-Duster Plane Crash

Many agricultural areas, including those in California, rely on crop-dusting planes to help keep their crops thriving.

Crop-dusting, or "aerial application" as some call it, is an incredibly high-skill occupation. Pilots must fly very detailed patterns in order to ensure a field is properly treated. Further, because crop-dusters fly so low to the ground, they have to avoid obstacles that ordinary pilots do not traditionally encounter.

About a year ago, a crop-duster pilot died in a plane crash, after colliding with a meteorological tower on Webb Tract Island in California.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the aviation accident and released its findings late last month. The agency says the pilot was likely unaware of the tower's existence.

The San Francisco Chronicle quoted the NTSB's report as saying, "the pilot likely had limited opportunity to become aware of the (tower) before the flight, and his ability to detect it visually in flight was extremely limited."

Feds Say Towers Should be Better Marked

The NTSB warned that more accidents like this are bound to happen, unless steps are taken to ensure that meteorological towers are made more visible to pilots.

The Federal Aviation Administration has recommended that the towers be marked in a color called "aviation orange." Although lighting the towers would provide better visibility, such a move would likely not be practical. Many of the towers are in remote areas and do not have ready access to pre-existing power sources.

However, the FAA's recommendations are merely advisory and do not have the force of law. Some experts worry that the towers will continue to pose a significant hazard to low-altitude pilots until the markings become mandatory.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "Deadly Delta Plan Crash Tied to Hard-to-See Tower," Henry K. Lee, Jan. 24, 2012.

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