Helicopter crashes in southwest Wis., pilot survives - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Helicopter crashes in southwest Wis., pilot survives

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A helicopter is totaled, but its pilot is alive, following a crash late Wednesday morning.

Pilot Dale Eilo, of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area, was crop-dusting soybeans in southwest Wisconsin's Grant County, south of Lancaster, when his main rotor clipped a power line, causing the helicopter to fall.

A spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday the NTSB is concerned about agriculture-related aircraft crashes -- so much so, in fact, it conducted a special investigation last year into the safety of agricultural aircraft operations and released those findings this spring.

Hazards the report cites include flying into wires and utility poles, which is exactly what happened in Grant County.

Eilo said he was crop-dusting a field of soybeans, when he came too close to a nearby power line. He clipped two of the wires, which sent him and his helicopter falling more than 20 feet to the ground.

"It all happened very fast," Eilo said Wednesday morning.

Incredibly, he was able to walk away from the totaled aircraft and refused medical treatment at the scene.

Grant County sheriff Nate Dreckman said Eilo is lucky to be alive.

"I was one of the first ones out here," Dreckman said. "I got out here, and (Eilo was) up walking around, and I went over and talked to him, and it's like, you know, it's a relief that it's pretty minor injuries for the way the helicopter looks."

The helicopter spent the early afternoon lying on its side in a field of soybeans. Dreckman, however, said Eilo was able to land the aircraft upright, before it tipped.

"It looks like his experience in piloting helped him, and he was able to properly at least set it down on the skids," Dreckman said, adding the maneuver allowed Eilo to avoid the kind of crash, "resulting in more serious injury or death. His skill probably really helped him out today."

Eilo said he has seven years of experience and what happened Wednesday morning counts as one of the scariest moments of his life.

Mike Voss lives next to the soybean field where the crash happened and arrived on the scene shortly afterward.

"Come down here and the gentleman's walking across the field, carrying his helmet," Voss said, happy the pilot wasn't more seriously hurt. "That's the best sight a guy could see."

The crash cut electricity to many customers in the area, but Dairyland Power Cooperative was able to quickly isolate the issue to a few customers and eventually restore full power.

This crash, however, was all too familiar to the NTSB. In 2013 alone, according to the NTSB, there were 16 accidents nationwide involving aircraft crashing into poles, wires and other structures while doing agricultural work.

Additionally, 86 people have died since 2003 in crashes involving aircraft doing agricultural work. Four of those deaths were in Iowa.

For more on the NTSB's study of the safety of agricultural aircraft operations, click HERE: http://www.ntsb.gov/doclib/safetyalerts/SA_035.pdf

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