Crop duster crashes near Tracy, one dead

TRACY, Calif. - A crop duster clipped an electricity tower and crashed into a field of alfalfa Tuesday, bursting into flames and killing the pilot.

Mark Alan Melson, 55, of Stockton, was pronounced dead at the scene about six miles northeast of Tracy. No one else was aboard the plane.

Melson was about to release organic phosphorous, a fertilizer, on a field of sugar beets when his single-engine plane struck the top of the tower, which was carrying 230,000 volts of electricity. The aircraft burst into flames on the ground 50-75 yards away from the tower, authorities said.

The Federal Aviation Administration was to inspect the site to determine the cause of the crash and whether the burst of flames that followed resulted from the electricity, aviation fluid or the highly combustible fertilizer the plane carried.

Melson was an experienced pilot who had logged over 18,000 hours of flight time, according to Joe Herrera, a deputy in the San Joaquin County Sheriff's office. Melson was working for Tracy Flying Service at the time of his death.

Part of his yellow Grummond airplane remained atop the tower on Tuesday. Pacific Gas and Electric shut down power to the tower, but no electricity users were affected, Herrera said.


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