By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
RIVERTON, Kan. —
RIVERTON, Kan. — Two minutes after John “Tim” Kellogg flew over his rural Cherokee County home and waved at his wife on their porch, the oil pressure in his crop-dusting plane dropped and the engine began smoking.
“I knew I was going to be on the ground in 15 to 20 seconds, and I knew it was going to be a hard landing,” he said.
A former mechanic on F-16s, F-15s and F-4s for the U.S. Air Force, Kellogg, 48, had to make a split-second decision.
He opted to kill the plane’s electric power because he had 45 gallons of gas on board and thought he might break the tank when he landed.
“I didn’t want a spark to ignite my fuel,” he said.
He aimed his Piper Brave at a field east of Highway 69 near Boston Mills Road, but he knew he wouldn’t make it.
“I crash-landed in a field I couldn’t see from the air — just because I knew it was there,” he said of the soon-to-be-planted cornfield owned by Rick Jesse. “I went over trees, did 180 degrees.”
The only thing still intact on the plane after the crash that sunny May day was the cockpit.
“It ripped the gear off, ripped every tire off the airplane, broke the windshield out,” Kellogg said.
Kellogg this week plans to again hit the skies over Southeast Kansas, Southwest Missouri and Northeast Oklahoma. He said he’s well aware that his is a risky profession: Each year there are news reports of crop-dusters crashing.
Crop-dusters have seen a tremendous increase in the number of hours — up 29 percent from 2003 through 2007, according to the Federal Aviation Administration — and in recent weeks have been in peak demand in Crawford and Cherokee counties because of an invasion of army worms and muddy fields that have kept farmers from accessing crops on the ground.
Kellogg said he has a lot invested in the profession. He spent thousands of dollars on education so that he could fly, and he holds numerous certifications. As the owner of Four States Sky Ag Inc., flying crop-dusters also is his livelihood. And, he said, he loves it.
After the crash on May 14, Kellogg thought he had lost his cellphone, which had been on the dash moments before the plane went down.
In addition to his experience with planes, Kellogg also is a former emergency room nurse and knew he had to get help immediately.
“I had fungicide in my eyes, and it was burning,” he said. “I felt like I had an abdominal bleed, my gut hurt so bad. I worried I would just lay there and bleed out.”
He discovered his cellphone nearby in a puddle of fungicide by the plane. After wiping it off, he dialed the customer for whom he was spraying.
“He’d know where I was and could get me help,” Kellogg said. “I tried calling three or four times, then decided it was time to get up and hoof it.”
Kellogg saw a tractor in use in a nearby field and, running the last 100 yards, headed almost blindly toward it in search of water to flush his eyes.
“I went to stop him. He was throttling the tractor down, and I think I must have freaked him out,” Kellogg said.
That man, Chris Holt, drove Kellogg to the guard shack at nearby Jayhawk Chemical, where a Wiese Co. truck mechanic, Mark Fowler Sr., of Webb City, Mo., helped him flush his eyes.
Kellogg, who today can’t stop praising the man, later would call Fowler’s company headquarters in Springfield, Mo., and recommend him for employee of the year.
Kellogg was still covered with fungicide, and his eyes were his biggest concern.
When they reached his wife of 30 years, DeAnn, she took him to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital in Joplin, Mo., for treatment, then a follow-up doctor’s appointment to make sure his eyes were OK. They are. Kellogg said it took almost a week, but the pain subsided and his vision is back at 100 percent.
His next concern was his livelihood and his promises to customers.
“After I tore up my airplane, I had 1,600 acres left to do,” Kellogg said. “If I lost that, I lost my income.”
Fowler isn’t the only one Kellogg now refers to as a guardian angel during and after his ordeal. He said he’s also blessed that others have come to his aid.
“For one thing, I have really neat customers,” he said.
They include about 20 or 30 pecan growing operations, the producers’ co-ops in Columbus and Oswego, and dozens of individual farmers.
“Some of my biggest customers called and asked, ‘We didn’t lose you, did we?’” Kellogg said. “I had one guy prepay for his acreage to help get me back up and going.”
He also had a call from fellow crop-duster Kevin Kingsley, of Lamar, Mo.
“I called him when a guy in training went down a few weeks before,” Kellogg said. “This time, it was him calling me and offering his help. He said when he got caught up, he’d come help me. We’re kind of all in it together.”
Meanwhile, he wasted no time getting back in the cockpit.
“I’ve been looking around for planes the past few weeks,” Kellogg said. “I’m chomping at the bit. I think everyone else is nervous about me flying, but I’m not. There’s stuff to do.”
Kellogg bought a new crop-duster in South Dakota and flew it home. A few days later, he was on his way to buy a backup plane in Independence, Kan.
“My wife is a little nervous — she doesn’t hardly sleep,” he said.
“She keeps telling me to wait until I’m ready. I’ve been ready for two weeks. I’d just as soon be in the air.”
Father was a pilot
JOHN “TIM” KELLOGG’S FATHER, Lowell Kellogg, grew up and learned to fly in Opolis, Kan. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II as a waist gunner on a B-17 and was shot down over Germany. He was a prisoner of war for the last year of the war. Having most recently lived in Carl Junction, he died in 1998. He would have been 99 this year.