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Bullet hits crop-dusting plane

Pilot thankful to be alive; man faces numerous charges

A bullet fired from the ground came within a metre of where the pilot was sitting. The bullet hole is seen at right.


A bullet fired from the ground came within a metre of where the pilot was sitting. The bullet hole is seen at right.

A Manitoba pilot is thankful to be alive after an angry property owner opened fire on his crop duster and nearly shot him out of the sky.

The 36-year-old was flying the Air Tractor 402 Wednesday morning near Fortier in the RM of Portage la Prairie, spraying fungicide over a canola field. He felt his plane give a sudden jolt but didn't realize what had occurred until he landed moments later.

A large hole was in the side of the plane, caused by a rifle bullet that entered through the bottom and exited out the side. The bullet had come within a few centimetres of hitting a key control panel and about a metre from where he was sitting in the cockpit.

Shooting at a pilot in the air is no different than shooting at a driver behind the wheel of a car -- it should lead to charges of attempted murder, said the past president of the Canadian Aerial Applicators Association.

"It's a very serious offence," said Jon Bagley, a pilot and owner of Brandon-based Western Aerial Spraying Ltd. "Not only could you hurt or kill the pilot, but if he crashes you could hurt or kill people on the ground. You just don't shoot at people. It's ludicrous to take a shot at an airplane."

Can one bullet take plane down?

"Absolutely," replied Bagley, who is also the past president of the Manitoba Applicator Association. "Bar none. You're shooting at a moving target that's driving 120 miles an hour (193 km/h). You don't have a lot of choice of where the bullet is going."

Bagley was aware of the case in Fortier near Portage la Prairie, where charges have been laid against a 51-year-old area resident who allegedly shot at a crop-dusting plane on Wednesday.

Those charges included endangering an aircraft.

But Bagley wonders, what about the pilot?

Although he has experienced incidents where his spraying has angered neighbours, either because of noise or chemicals wafting onto their property, there are no circumstances where lives should be put in danger, Bagley said.

"The important thing to recognize is the pilot is not the villain," Bagley noted.

"We're trying to help the farmer. We're protecting the crop. That's the food we grow to keep our country fed. We're not crazy barnstorming images you think from the 1920s."


-- Randy Turner

"He was shaken up pretty bad, worried about his life," said Cory Trumbla, who had hired the pilot to spray the farm field on behalf of a client who contacted his company, Terraco.

The pilot declined an interview request Friday as he recovered from the emotional trauma. He also requested his name not be published because of security concerns.

"It was about four feet (one metre) from hitting him. It could have killed him or sent the aircraft completely out of control," said Trumbla.

He said the pilot didn't see the gunman take aim while flying over the field about five metres above.

"At first he thought he might have hit a wire. But when he got on the ground, it was obvious it was a bullet hole," he said.

Trumbla said the pilot immediately called him after landing.

"He said 'We have a problem, I've just been shot,' " said Trumbla. "It didn't even compute. There's a lot of inherent risk with crop dusting. Being shot at isn't one of them."

Trumbla said they were quickly able to figure out where the shot was fired from. He called RCMP, who told him officers would be dispatched. He said that ended up taking several hours.

By then, an angry Trumbla had already stormed over to the property -- which was adjacent to the field being sprayed -- and confronted the alleged gunman. He said the man was upset about spraying in the area, claiming it was drifting onto his land and killing his trees.

"I think reality set in when I told him he'd hit the plane," said Trumbla. "And his trees aren't dying. They're beautiful. And the fungicide actually protects plants, not kills them."

Luc Arnal, 51, from the RM of Portage la Prairie was arrested later in the day and was charged with numerous offences including discharging a firearm, pointing a firearm, unauthorized possession of a firearm, endangering an aircraft and mischief.

'He was shaken up pretty bad, worried about his life' -- Cory Trumbla, of the pilot

He is being held in custody without bail. None of the allegations has been proven and he is presumed innocent.

Trumbla is angry police haven't laid more serious charges, saying they seem to be treating it more as a property crime than an attack on a human being.

"This should be attempted murder," he said.

The Crown does have the option of upgrading charges upon reviewing the file, and Trumbla said he hopes that's the case. He suggested police would take a much different view of it if it was one of their aircraft, or even a cruiser car, which had been fired upon.

"It's just insanity. There's just no comprehending what happened," said Trumbla.

He said this is the first local case of its kind he's encountered. And while citizens do occasionally get upset with spraying, Trumbla said there are much more civil ways to deal with the concerns.

For example, his company will sometimes get requests from people who are worried their farm animals might get spooked, so precautions are taken when flying near those properties.


Updated on Saturday, July 12, 2014 at 9:25 AM CDT:
Corrects name of plane

Comments are not accepted on this story because they might prejudice a case before the courts.


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