Pilot Jon Erhart of Dodge City, Kansas tells the story of his recent close encounter with a tower guy wire while spraying a field:
"The job at hand was to safely spray a circle of corn with radio towers on 2 sides and windmill towers in 2 rows to the west. (My Sister Cindy said that the field was laid out like a pinball machine…) The plan was the same as I had used on 2 previous applications to the same field. I was to begin with a pass next to the closest tower on the North side of the field to set up a “race track” pattern on the GPS."
"My intent was to parallel the ground anchor points of the guy wires on my first pass. When making the first pass, I focused on the next to last ground anchor point of one of the guy wires instead of the last one as planned causing me to fly between the second set of guy wires instead of around them. I don''t know if it was out of view due to the growth of weeds, or tall corn, but I picked the wrong one."
"When I started my pull-up, I saw the other guy wire go by on my left and knew I had blown it… I felt and heard the impact and realized I had lost the outer 7 feet of my left wing. My first thought was that I was going to crash, but found that I was able to keep the airplane flying, at least for a period of time. The next thought was that I needed to get it on the ground as quickly as possible before I lost control and crashed “out of control”. My thought at that point (Remembering something that my Dad had taught me…) was that I wanted to go down close to people so that I wouldn''t have too far to go for help. The direction I was headed was taking me further away from people."
"Since I seemed to be able at that point to keep the plane flying, I decided to try turning the plane around. Before “rocking the boat”, I called Debbie at Dodge and told her my situation so that if I crashed during the turn attempt someone would come looking for me. I told her that I just made a BIG BOO BOO. Her first thought was that I had sprayed the wrong field, but I told her I had lost about half of my left wing. I told her to call 911 to get fire and ambulance at the airport. I also told her to send an airplane out to look for me in case I didn''t make it back."
"I was able to turn the plane around and headed it for Dodge. I figured that if I was going to crash, I may as well be at Dodge, where I could have emergency services ready. About half way back to Dodge, (It seemed like the 25 miles took about 6 hours…) I realized that I was on the wrong side of a big cross-country line. I needed to go over it, or I was going to have to go under it. Luckily I was able to nurse the plane high enough to clear it."
"I was in touch with Debbie in Dodge most of the flight towards Dodge and gave her updates as I approached. Emergency services were in place when I lined up on the runway. I was operating at full power to maintain control which was giving me a speed of about 120-125 mph. I got the plane within about 3 feet of the runway at which time I began to decrease power."
"Almost as soon as I THOUGHT about moving the power lever, it was “game over”. I told Debbie on the radio, “I''m heading for the ditch…” The plane began to roll to the left and impacted the ground in a “nose down” attitude. The engine was torn from the fuselage and the plane impacted the tail in the final resting place. The plane was sitting upright. Upon coming to a stop, I heard the fuel pump running and turned off the master switch."
"I unbuckled my harness, took off my helmet and got out of the plane. When getting out of the plane, I suspected that I had broken my collar bone. While getting away from the plane I looked myself over to see if I had anything else torn up that I didn''t know about. Upon the arrival of emergency services, we determined that my collar bone was the extent of any major injuries. It''s obvious that God isn''t through with me yet…!!!!"
Jon and Debbie Erhart operate Erhart Aerial Spraying Inc in Dodge City, Kans.