Crop Duster Crashes in Gender Reveal Stunt

29 Nov 19 11 Comments

On the 9th of July 2019 an Air Tractor AT-602 crashed in Turkey, Texas.

Air Tractors are agricultural aircraft and the AT-602 is a good mid-ranged option for a farmer: a single-seater low-wing taildragger with a range of 600 miles and a 630-gallon chemical hopper for crop-dusting or fertilizer distribution.

Air Tractor AT-602

With the AT-602, you can do a thousand acres in the morning, save three loads over a smaller plane, and still have plenty of daylight for more jobs.

But this particular AT-602 wasn’t carrying chemicals in its hopper and it wasn’t helping a farmer with his crops.

No, instead it was carrying pink water.

The pilot was experienced, with a commercial licence and certified as a flight instructor. He had about 14,000 hours flight time with 8,000 on type. He was manoeuvring at low altitude when he dumped the pink water for what was meant to be a spectacular display.

Someone was going to have a baby and the pink water was her way of saying it’s a girl!. Gender reveal parties appear to be a modern thing, especially popular in the US and Australia. Basically, friends and family are invited to a party where something unexpected in pink or blue demonstrates the apparent genitals of a not-yet-born baby.

Initially, this was a relatively staid affair, where one of the parents would slice a specially-made cake to reveal pink for a girl or blue for a boy. Over the past decade, they’ve become more elaborate, including bashing open a piñata filled with pink or blue candies, setting off smoke bombs with coloured smoke and, in one case, an alligator crunching into a watermelon which had been filled with blue jelly.

As the gender reveal parties get more and more extreme, things have started to go wrong. One couple shot pink fireworks at their party guests. Another couple lost their car when they hosted a gender reveal burnout, placing bags of blue powder under the rear wheels ready to burst. Unfortunately the blue powder ignited and set the tyres on fire. The event was filmed by a low-flying drone (if you can’t see this on the mailing list, please click through to see the videos on the website):

In a more tragic case, a man used a high-powered rifle to shoot a target, so that it would burst open spraying blue chalk everywhere. The explosion started a wildfire which burned 47,000 acres leading to a fine of $220,000.

And just last month, a 56-year-old woman was killed by a flying piece of shrapnel in a gender-reveal party gone wrong.

Woman killed by shrapnel from ‘gender reveal’ party explosion in Iowa

They spent Friday and Saturday preparing for the moment, according to law enforcement. The family had welded a homemade stand, which was filled with gunpowder, to a metal base. They drilled a hole for a fuse and placed a piece of wood on top of the metal stand. Colored powder was then layered on top of the wood.

Then, they put tape on top of the entire assembly, which “inadvertently created a pipe bomb,” authorities said.

Although I don’t quite get the obsession with this kind of embarrassing display, I have to admit that flinging the equivalent of a large hot tub of pink water from a crop-duster seems almost tame in comparison. The pilot slowed and trimmed the aircraft and dumped about 350 gallons (1,325 litres) of water. But then, he said, the AT-602 “got too slow” and then stalled. Already low to the ground, there was no chance to recover and the aircraft crashed into a field and rolled over. His report to the NTSB also stated that his passenger had suffered minor injuries.

Passenger in a single seater? Sure enough. The report has tick boxes for which seat the passenger was in: left, centre, right. The pilot simply ticked “unknown”. The inspector told the NTSB that as far as he could tell, the pilot moved to the right of the seat with the passenger perched on the left edge.

One commenter on Kathryns Report had some tips for the pilot, explaining that spray planes have a high degree of nose-up pitch when dumping a large amount of weight.

If your not ready for it even with stick full fwd the plane will pitch up violently. Factor in the woman passenger sitting on the left-hand side apparently and you lose the ability to close the dump gate handle which takes considerable force with that much water/weight pouring out. Always always have passenger sit on the right-hand side and maybe dump 1/2 load next time :)

Looking at that plane and knowing they were crushed into that cockpit with no seat belts or restraints, it’s amazing that they both walked away.

Categories: Crazy, PE,


  • Wow. I heard about this, but I couldn’t get any details (yay, American news “journalism”)

    Anyway, “14,000 hours flight time with 8,000 on type” and he still gets surprised by the dump characteristics? Really?

    Something sounds fishy. I think the passenger hit the stick and perhaps knocked it out of his hand and he’s taking the blame, especially since he ticked “unknown” for the passenger seating. Come on. He’s the pilot. He damn well knew where the passenger was sitting.

  • The point is, as Sylvia remarked: this was a single-seat aircraft. Doing this kind of stunt with the pilot sharing a seat with a passenger is as good as asking for an accident to happen. The pilot’s abllity to control the aircraft may well have been limited, never mind where the passenger was sitting.
    And of course, it is very will possible that somehow the passenger knocked the pilot’s hand of the stick at the wrong moment.
    The description of this flight as a “stunt” applies to the rather bizarre way of celebrating the gender of the unborn child, with a passenger sharing the pilot’s seat. Because for a pilot with that many hours on type, dumping a load of coloured water should have been a routine mission. Flying at very low altitude is part and parcel of those missions.

  • Another crash where someone broke the rules because, hey, it’s a fun event. But airplanes don’t care if it’s fun or not, they still require respect.

    I have noticed these gender reveal stunts making the news more and more. The Arizona stunt affected me personally, as I was instructed to prepare for evacuation because of this fire. It was controlled before it reached my neighborhood, but there was a lot of anxiety in our neighborhood for several days and the flames were clearly visible from my yard. The person that set the fire is very fortunate that the dollar value of the damage was not much greater.

    No matter what the occasion, joy ride or an air ambulance flight, airplanes deserve our respect and full attention.

  • Crop dusters have always been a “breed apart”.
    My aviation career started in 1965 when I got a job in the office of a flying school at Hilversum (EHHV). Aviation in those days was nowhere nearly as regulated as it is today. Private pilots could make international trips VFR, even without a radio. Some were even upset when it became a necessity to get a VHF radio installed before going on their holidays to the south of France – not to mention the inconvenience of having to get an R/T operator’s licence.
    In those days there were crop dusters with reputations of ignoring rules that normally applied to pilots. One of them was called Eric de Lyon. He claimed that he was afraid of heights and rarely ever flew higher than 50-100 feet. Anywhere, even if not engaged in actual dusting.
    In those days the Dutch police operated an aircraft, mainly for traffic observations. It was an Auster Autocrat, PH-POL alsways flown by the same two cops: De Winter and Verdellen.
    They also kept an eye on light aircraft, but Eric never got caught or, if he did, it was shrugged off. As I witnessed myself when the Piper Super Cub flown by De Lyon landed, followed by the PH-POL. The cops just laughed when they said that they wondered about that very low flying aircraft. De Lyon once even managed to fly right across the control zone of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and crossed the centreline of a man runway without being spotted by ATC: he was at about 20 feet, below their radar. I once was given a “joyride” with Eric. He was going back to his base at a farm yard. He had a tecnique that was extremely scary: he would fly straight at a row of trees, below tree top level, and at the last moment using stick and a bit of flaps “jump” the treeline. By dumping the flaps he dropped to just a few feet height again as soon as he had cleared them.
    I had to take the bus back; it had been quite an experience.
    Eric died of an accident. No, not when flying. He had taken the job of managing a small airstrip in Dutch Flanders. He was sharpening the blades of a grass mower when the fast rotating grinding wheel shattered. A piece hit and killed him.
    As demonstrated in Sylvia’s piece: Crop dusting pilots are virtually indestructible – as long as they are flying.

  • I’m surprised the passenger even fit in the plane; the single-seat dusters I’ve seen wouldn’t have room for a second person. (Maybe if they were both extremely thin…) Sounds like this pilot took his apartness (to borrow Rudy’s adjective) a bit too far; at least this fool didn’t kill anyone.

    Rudy — did Schiphol not have ground-surveillance radar then? I remember seeing it in use in Boston Logan (a tower visit was part of my instrument course in 1975); I had the impression that it picked up passenger jets just before landing, before they disappeared from approach radar.

  • Chip,
    The pilot I mentioned was real. And I have no doubt that I described an event that actually took place in 1965 or ’66 place. If Schiphol, even then a major airporty, did have ground radar in those days, a relatively slow flying small aircraft just outside the airport would probably have been ignored as it may have been interpreted as a car.
    Anyway, Eric, in spite of his reputation, was a very good pilot. He just lived and worked in another world, a segment of aviation that barely interacted with the rest of the industry. He never rarely used an airport, rarely an aerodrome and had his own rules.
    He represented a breed of pilots that had more in common with pioneers and barnstormers. But he knew what he was doing.
    All aircraft bite fools !

  • Sylvia, thanks for writing about this gender reveal accident. Rudy, thanks for sharing your interesting story.

  • Kathy,
    The honour must go to Sylvia only.
    She does excellent research and writes interesting aviation stories. Sometimes they are entertaining, sometimes serious but always professional.
    And she jogs my memory. Some of my experiences are not of the kind that I can be proud of, but I have written a few here.
    I got away with some very stupid things, things that are not in the aircraft manuals including some that were in the “showing off” category. So I became one of the “old AND bold” pilots. I wrote a few down on Sylvia’s blog as a way of hoping to dissuade others. These sins were committed long enough ago to be immune from prosecution. If I my confessions save even one life it was worth it. But without Sylvia and her excellent blog I would never have written them down.

  • As an American female, I don’t understand these “gender reveal” things and luckily, I am too old to be involved in any of them. Heck, I never understood the silly games at bridal/baby showers either. I will happily stay a spinster Librarian.

  • Well, here is a lady who keeps a clear perspective and Maggie, I really mean this as a compliment. As a recently graduated overly mature student I must say that I really have come to appreciate librarians. No kidding. The ones that I came across in my research were absolutely great.
    And no, I don’t really get these “gender reveal” things either. Boy or girl, what does it matter as long as they are healthy?
    Will they grow up to become pilots – or librarians?
    Of course, there are some awesome aviation books in many libraries too.

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