Get our newsletters

Tincium probes appearance of rogue crop duster


There’s a classic scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest” where Cary Grant is menacingly buzzed by a rogue crop duster. While not quite as cinematic, Tinicum residents were faced with their own real-life drama when an unannounced low-flying plane began banking low over residential homes, then descended precipitously over a local farm field dropping rye or wheat pellets coated with an as-yet unidentified encapsulation material.

The incident occurred Oct. 2 on Hollow Horn Road, causing agitated residents to run out of their homes baffled by plane’s presence. Several took photos and videos as they watched, including Jim Helms, a member of the Tinicum Township Board of Supervisors.

“We saw it immediately, but we had no idea why they would suddenly be dusting that field,” said Helms. “It does not seem reasonable to spray an area surrounded by residential homes, especially where it is impossible to control the drop.”

Resident Diane Allison stated the plane made two runs, the first at least 15-20 minutes in duration then, after a gap, returned again for another 10-minute drop.

“I’m not anti-agriculture and I respect customary farming practices,” she said. “However, for the 45 years I’ve lived here, this parcel of land has been quietly farmed and we have never experienced anything invasive like this. I want a definitive explanation of what was on that seed and whether that was the only substance sprayed. My husband drove over to the far side of the parcel, and he said he could literally taste something in the air.

Land Preservation Committee Chair and nearby resident Luke Sorenson concurred, “I had an odd taste in my mouth due to the strong breezes that were blowing.”

Allison and other residents complained that due to the limited size of the land in question, the dropped substance fell outside the farm property onto neighboring tracts. Allison continued, “I have an expectation that residents would be warned if a low-flying plane was scheduled to drop an unknown substance onto their property.”

Numerous residents expressed dismay that they, their children, pets, and livestock were exposed to an unknown substance without prior warning. Sorenson found the event “quite alarming,” stating “the turns that plane was executing were quite something, but no plane can control where it is dropping debris over a small farm of maybe 20 acres.”

During a meeting of Tinicum’s supervisors on Oct. 2, Township Solicitor Steve Harris suggested that there is likely a set of FAA and Department of Agriculture rules regulating crop-dusting and that he and Manager Teri Lewis were gathering what information they could about the incident.

“We have identified the company who did this, but when I called their voice mail was full.”

Lewis added that emails had been sent to determine exactly what the plane was depositing as well as reaching out to the property owner, who lives across the street and, according to Allison, leases out the land to a farmer.

Supervisor Eleanor Breslin raised the point that this past summer, she had received questions from another resident about a low crop plane flying above a field by River Road.

“It seems this is not limited to one isolated incident,” she said.

Join our readers whose generous donations are making it possible for you to read our news coverage. Help keep local journalism alive and our community strong. Donate today.