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Pilot of crop duster may not have seen tower before fatal crash

A meteorological tower that a crop dusting plane struck on Webb Tract Island in Contra Costa County last week might not have been visible to the pilot, who was killed in the crash, according to a preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash was reported shortly before 11 a.m. on Jan. 10, killing the pilot, Stephen Allen, 58, a resident of Courtland in unincorporated Sacramento County. Allen was the only person aboard the Rockwell International S-2R crop duster, authorities said.

Emergency crews responded to find the plane about a half-mile north of a ferry dock on the remote island, which is located just north of Bethel Island.

A Federal Aviation Administration inspector who responded to the crash site reported that the pilot had been applying seed when the accident occurred, according to the report, which was released Friday.

Witnesses said the pilot flew over the area and then began a pass over the field. The witnesses said the airplane did not appear to perform any evasive maneuvers prior to impacting the tower, the report said.

The report cites an article on meteorological towers from the National Agricultural Aviation Association, which says the towers are used for gathering wind data during the development and siting of wind energy conversion facilities.

“Agricultural pilots … and any other low-level flying operation may be affected” by the structure of the towers, which “are narrow, unmarked, and gray in color,” the report said.

That combination of attributes “makes for a structure that is nearly invisible under some atmospheric conditions,” the report said.

Weather in the area was partly cloudy and foggy at the time of the crash, according to the National Weather Service.

The plane was registered to Alexander Ag Flying Service Inc. of Walnut Grove, located near Sacramento. The company has declined to comment on the crash.