Closed Circuit

By Philip Reed​

Crop dusters do more than apply insecticide and torment Cary Grant. They also, on occasion, find themselves in unfortunate altercations with transmission lines. Such was the case March 31, when a crop-dusting helicopter struck the Gila-to-Knob 161-kilovolt transmission line in Yuma, Arizona, at around 6 p.m., causing a service interruption.

By 6:30, Foreman II Lineman Justin Swires was on site to assess the situation and the damage. He reported his findings back to Dispatch, including the fact that the helicopter had neither crashed nor landed; the pilot who struck the line continued flying. While it was obviously good that the incident did not result in any injuries, it was up to WAPA to get power restored as quickly and safely as possible.

One complication was that repairs and service restoration would require access to the nearby Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation, which would require approval from the Tribe.

Transmission Lines and Substations Maintenance Manager Mike Simonton worked to get in touch with a representative of the Tribe who could authorize access. By 9 p.m., he was able to do so, and was informed that the Tribe was both aware of the incident and happy to allow WAPA to make any necessary repairs on the reservation.

Within 15 minutes of this approval, WAPA crews were gathering the necessary equipment and mobilizing to address the outage.

Restoration efforts continued through the following morning, April 1, as the impacted transmission line was located on irrigated agricultural lands.

In addition to needing to tow in the equipment required to make the necessary repairs on soggy land, the crews had to be careful to avoid causing another kind of disruption.

“We wanted to mitigate the impact to agricultural activities,” explained Simonton.

This required not only careful planning on WAPA’s end, but additional coordination with the Quechan Tribe.

Supervisory Environmental Protection Specialist Sean Berry worked with the Quechan historic preservation officer regarding any environmental matters, and Realty Specialist Angela Murphy initiated discussions with adjacent landowners regarding efforts that could prove to be necessary post-repair.

The project involved the grounding and removal of the affected conductor, which required coordination with a neighboring utility. WAPA’s crew partnered with them to lift the conductor above the distribution line and perform repair work over the road as opposed to on land, limiting the amount of heavy equipment needed in the agricultural fields and thereby minimizing disruption.

The repairs were successful and the line was placed back into service at around 4:30 p.m.

“This was yet another great effort by line crews, Dispatch, Environment and Lands,” Simonton said afterward. “Thank you all for contributing to this team success!” 

Note: Reed is a public affairs specialist.

WAPA crews working on transmission lines

WAPA crews mobilized quickly when a crop duster struck a transmission line in Yuma, Arizona, damaging it before flying off.

Image of repaired lines by a wet field

Last modified on March 5th, 2024