NTSB report provides new details, but no cause, for Sutter County cropduster crash

A preliminary investigation report has been released by the National Transportation Safety Board for the May 15 collision between two cropdusters in Sutter County that killed both pilots, giving a few more details on the circumstances surrounding the crash.

NTSB’s preliminary report June 21 indicates that one of the biplanes was departing from a private airstrip in Pleasant Grove en route to seed a rice field, while the other aircraft had just finished seeding a field and was traveling back to a different airport at the time of the collision.

The midair collision involved a Grumman G-164C “Ag Cat” and a Grumman G-164D, both agricultural biplanes, around 12:15 p.m. The G164C was operated by Moe’s Crop-Dusting Service, and the G-164D was operated by the Van Dyke Bros. The G-164C was piloted by Burton Allen Haughey, 59, of Wheatland, and the G-164D was piloted by Brian Julean Van Dyke, 63, of Rio Oso, according to Sutter County sheriff’s officials and the Federal Aviation Administration registry.

Van Dyke’s plane had just finished seeding a field and was traveling back to the Van Dyke Strip Airport at the time of the collision. Haughey’s plane was traveling south-southeast toward a rice field, according to the preliminary report.

Initial reports by authorities had said both single-engine biplanes were G-164C models.

The report cites a witness statement from woman about a half-mile west of the collision, who says she heard a loud bang and saw Haughey’s aircraft into the ground after losing both wings on the left side. She did not see the midair collision and was unaware at the time that another plane was involved, NTSB’s report states.

The NTSB report does not name or speculate on a cause for the collision, but does note that the weather conditions at the time of the collision permitted sufficient visibility to fly without instruments. Visibility was 10 miles amid scattered clouds, and wind speeds were shy of 10 mph, the report states.

The biplanes ended up on the ground about a quarter-mile apart. Haughey’s plane ended up in a dry field near an access road, while Van Dyke’s aircraft came to rest nose-down in a rice field, the report says. Both planes were recovered for examination.

A final report by the NTSB may take anywhere from several months to two or more years.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.