Crop duster bursts into flames in Madera after malfunction; pilot safely escapes

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The pilot says he was about to spray his crop with insecticide when the plane lost power during takeoff. (KFSN)

A crop dusting pilot narrowly escaped injury Sunday morning after his plane burst into flames after losing power.

Pilot Stephen Streeter says he was about to spray his crop with insecticide when the plane malfunctioned during takeoff at the Madera Municipal Airport. He escaped the plane before it caught fire.

"When it started off the runway, it basically started sliding sideways and I think it took the landing gear from off under it, then of course things went downhill from there," Streeter said.

The plane veered off into a nearby field next to the runway. It forced the pilot with 40 years of experience to make a split-second, life or death decision.

"The engine, the prop hit the ground and the engine was removed from the airplane," Streeter said. "So, I abandoned the aircraft and called 911 to make sure we didn't burn the airport all up."

Fire crews quickly contained the fire and no one was injured. Streeter says it is not the first time he has faced a frightening situation like this.

"I've wrecked a helicopter two or three times," he said. "But I haven't really wrecked an airplane. I've had an engine failure once, but the wreck looks more exciting than what it really was."

Even still, he is relieved to be alive and prepared to get back in the air and fly again.

The FAA is now investigating how the crash happened.

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