Air Tractor and the Thanksgiving blessing

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That Brent Hampton will spend Thanksgiving on Thursday with his wife and newborn son in Portageville, Missouri, at all is testament to the toughness of an Air Tractor. I’m not promoting the company, I’m just amazed for the second time this month at the ability of this metal workhorse to give pilots a second chance.

Earlier in November, I wrote about an AT-402 in Texas that hit wires and came to rest inverted back in August, with the pilot walking away.

Then this week, I found the final NTSB report on a should-have-been-fatal accident involving not one, but two Air Tractors that collided in midair on 18 April. One pilot in an AT-502B walked away with no injuries, the other, Brent Hampton in the AT-802A, was just about healed from a variety of broken bones and was enjoying his one-week-old baby when I talked to him by phone on November 22.

Oddly enough, the guy in the other Air Tractor was Brent’s father, Buster Hampton. The two, along with Buster’s other son, run Hampton Flying Service.

Here’s what happened, according to the NTSB. Buster Hampton had just departed KIEW (New Madrid airport) to the south in his Air Tractor AT-502B turboprop loaded with chemicals. After turning to northeast at his cruise altitude of 500ft, he came face to face with Brent in the AT-802A coming back empty from a spray run.

“Impact marks and the location of the wreckage indicated the spray boom on the AT-502B (Buster’s plane) contacted the windshield on the AT-802A while the right wheel hit the left side of the vertical stabilized,” says the NTSB. “Both the right main gear and the vertical stabilizer were located in a field near the collision site. The horizontal stabilizer remained attached to the AT-802A (Brent’s plane).”

Buster’s Air Tractor, with right gear missing, continued to fly and he returned to the airport where he safely landed. “Prop strike due to [landing gear] leg missing,” he wrote in the accident report.

Brent can’t remember what happened next. NTSB says his plane “cleared a 5ft-tall fence prior to contacting the terrain”. The aircraft hit the ground in the middle of a gravel road then slid 150ft before hitting a telephone pole and splitting in two (nose separated from tail). Brent says the cockpit remained intact. His helmet got knocked off at some point in the accident sequence.

“It busted me up pretty bad,” Brent tells me. Bad in this case means “nine or ten” broken bones, including limbs and pelvis. He says he’s healed now but hasn’t yet gone back to get his flight medical reapproved, in part because of the new baby. He says he’ll get back to flying crop dusters for Hampton Flying Service in January.

“I’d be dead if I were flying anything else,” he tells me.

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