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Daily News Archive
From September 24, 2001

Crop-Dusters Banned from Spraying

Recent evidence prompted federal agencies to issue warnings about the use of crop-duster planes for terrorist attacks. After a "serious, credible threat," the Federal Aviation Administration grounded crop-dusters yesterday. The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) ordered the ban for all 48 contiguous states to last through 12:05 this morning.

According to the Washington Post, three Middle Eastern men have been asking about crop-dusters in Belle Glade, Florida since February. They asked how many gallons of chemicals and fuel the planes could hold, how fast they go, and if they are difficult to fly. The group's leader was identified as Egyptian Mohamed Atta, the same person the FBI believes hijacked and flew one of the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center.

Other groups of Middle Easterners, who described themselves as flight students, made similar inquiries the weekend before September 11th, according to the general manager of South Florida Crop Care. His plane holds 500 gallons of chemicals and 200 gallons of fuel. "That's a bomb itself right there," said James Lester, who loads chemicals onto the planes. "A bomb itself right there ready to explode."

The nation's 4,000 crop-dusters, many of which are used to combat mosquitoes, can hold 300 to 800 gallons of chemicals. Pilots of these small planes must obtain commercial licenses and training for agricultural aviation. According to the NAAA, there have been no confirmed reports of stolen planes or chemicals in the past two weeks.

The trucking industry is also on the lookout for suspicious activities. An alert issued by the American Trucking Associations stated that the FBI has information on numerous terrorist threats involving weapons of mass destruction. "We're trying to exercise an abundance of caution," said one FBI official.