2008 February. Wee Waa (NSW) Crop Duster Crash

Dead crop duster pilot ‘one of the best’
February 27, 2008 Sydney Morning Herald

A pilot killed when two crop dusters collided in northern NSW was one of Australia’s most experienced agricultural aviators, his employer says.

The aircraft collided in midair above a farm near Trindalls Lane, 10km north of Wee Waa, about 9.45am (AEDT) on Tuesday.

Sixty-year-old James Maria, a Wee Waa father of five and grandfather, died when his aircraft burst into flames on hitting the ground, police said.

The other pilot, another local man, dragged himself to safety despite broken limbs and minor burns.

The 45-year-old was in a serious but stable condition at Tamworth Base Hospital, police said.

Mr Maria had been flying for Cropjet Aviation, while the other aircraft had been operated by Cropair.

The owner of Cropjet Aviation, Conrad Bolton, said Mr Maria had been turning his plane after spraying a paddock when he collided with the other machine, which had just taken off and was on its way to another job.

Mr Maria had chalked up at least 10,000 hours flying crop dusters in 36 years as a pilot and was “probably Australia’s most senior agricultural pilot”, Mr Bolton told AAP.

He said he had known Mr Maria “for decades” since working as ground crew for him as a schoolboy.

“It’s a big blow,” he said.

Mr Bolton said the accident had devastated Mr Maria’s five children.

“They are extremely upset, they were very close to their father and he lived for his kids, I can tell you that,” he said.

“He was just working for his kids, to make sure they got the very best start out of life.

“He was very proud of them – they’re just devastated.”

Mr Bolton said it was a “very, very rare event” for two crop dusters to collide.

“Air agriculture is very visual, you haven’t got time to be looking down at your instruments,” Mr Bolton said.

“It’s heads up, observing everything that’s going on around the aircraft.

“(A collision is) something that’s almost an impossibility but it’s happened.”

Air Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigators have been sifting through the wreckage of the planes.

The ATSB will prepare a preliminary report in a month’s time and a full report within a year.

It is the second fatal crash in 18 months involving a Cropjet Aviation aircraft.

A pilot died when one of the company’s crop dusters went down in the Collarenebri district in December 2006.

Mr Bolton said the ATSB had yet to determine what caused that crash, but said he was confident the bureau would find his company was doing all it could to meet safety and maintenance requirements.