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Operation Migration no Stranger to Adversity on This Trip

Crew presses on despite weather, break-in, a shot crane, chase plane emergency landing

The Lounsbury’s C-182 after a successful ditching in an Illinois farm field following engine trouble.

Paula and Don Lounsbury, EAA members from Windham Centre, Ontario, were providing “top cover” for Operation Migration.

Trike leads the cranes over Tennessee.

December 12, 2009 — Teaching a flock of whooping cranes a migratory route from Wisconsin to Florida is by itself a huge undertaking, but Operation Migration has had to face additional adversity during this fall’s flight journey. Weather caused several long layovers in central Illinois last month; a trike had to make an emergency landing due to engine problems; while en route, their Necedah, Wisconsin, hangar was vandalized and several aircraft and parts were damaged.

Then, more recently, reports emerged that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (I-DNR) were investigating the shooting of an endangered whooping crane near the town of Cayuga in central Vermillion County, Indiana. The crane was last seen alive by an International Crane Foundation (ICF) staff member on November 28. The carcass was found by an ICF tracking intern on December 1. This death is particularly troublesome since it was the 7-year-old mother of the first crane to be successfully hatched in the wild in Eastern North America (2006) in one hundred years.

“To kill and abandon one of 500 remaining members of species shows a lack of reverence for life and an absence of simple common sense,” said John Christian, FWS Assistant Regional Director for Migratory Birds. “It is inconceivable that someone would have such little regard for conservation.”

As federal and Indiana state officials investigated the shooting, the migration proceeded south and on December 4, a Cessna 182 that was flying “top cover” for Operation Migration developed engine trouble and was forced to land in a plowed field in Southern Illinois.  The two volunteer pilots, Don and Paula Lounsbury, EAA 168046, of Windham Centre, Ontario, were not injured when their airplane flipped on its back after the nose gear sunk into the freshly tilled ground made soft from recent rains.

FAA and NTSB officials are investigating and have not released a probable cause. The December 6 entry of the Operation Migration blog suggests that fuel starvation precipitated by frozen fuel vents may have contributed to the cause of the engine failure.

The organization Operation Migration conducts the migration every year using experimental-light-sport aircraft trikes to guide the cranes south. The assisted migration teaches juvenile cranes a migration route to their winter grounds in Florida. The 20 young cranes in the 2009 generation are, as of this writing, waiting out weather in Hardin County, Tennessee, just north of the Mississippi-Alabama border.

More information about how to support the migration, including a fund to replace the aircraft damaged in the Wisconsin break-in, can be found here.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering a minimum reward of $2,500 for information leading to a conviction for regarding the shooting of the whooping crane. Anyone with information should call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources 24-hour hotline at 800 TIP IDNR (800-847-4367), or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 317-346-7016.  Callers can remain anonymous.

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