Morris pilot grounded for air field incident

MORRIS, Ill. - The Federal Aviation Administration has found fault with the actions of a politically connected crop duster who operates out of a small city owned airport in Morris, IL.

WGN Investigates first reported on the air field confrontation between Sid Nelson and two other pilots in August of 2017.  Cell phone video showed Nelson landing at the Morris airport and then jumping out of his yellow crop duster and getting in the faces of a flight instructor and student pilot preparing for take off yards from the runway.

“You’ve heard of road rage – but this was more akin to runway rage,” said pilot John O’Connor.  His student pilot that day told a similar story. “I’d never seen a face on a human being look like that,” Nick Scholtes said.  “He was just livid.”  The two say Nelson violently shook their plane all the while propellers of both aircraft continued to spin.

The FAA just released the findings of its investigations into the incident.  “Your operation as described… was careless or reckless so as to endanger the life or property of another,” the FAA wrote.  The agency suspended Nelson’s pilot’s license for 42 days, effective January 11, 2018.  WGN Investigates only recently obtained the FAA’s letter after months of open records request denials by the agency.

Nelson did not return calls for comment.  However, in a previous interview he denied doing anything inappropriate and insisted he was trying to “help” the other pilots.

Morris police responded to the altercation near the runway but no charges were filed.  A police report indicated Morris mayor Dick Kopczick intervened in the investigation and instructed an officer to re-interview those involved.  Kopczick denied attempting to influence the investigation into his political ally’s conduct.  Nelson is once again flying out of the Morris airport. “He has his license and every right to be there,” Mayor Kopczick said.  However, the operators of a flight school that raised concerns about Nelson were told they’d have leave their office building on the airfield to make way for a long-planned parking lot expansion.   Mayor Kopczick called it “vindictive” to suggest the move was payback for speaking out.

Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland, who asked for a review of the mayor's intervention in the case, said he "commends the FAA for taking action."