SAN ANTONIO – They called it the “pork choppin’” law when it passed a few years ago. It allowed hunters to legally shoot feral hogs from helicopters. Since then some hunters have paid thousands of dollars to go on the excursions.
Now a lawsuit filed by a Medina County man claims some operators are flying through a dangerous loophole.
Thomas Swan runs an organic farm in Devine. For him going on a helicopter hog hunt wasn’t just about the thrill of the experience.
“Being a farmer I get to see the true destruction of wild pigs. What a lot of people don’t understand is they actually are a problem,” Swan said.
Last September Swan and a friend were on a hog hunt near Burnet when the helicopter they had hired experienced engine failure. The pilot made a hard crash landing right in the lanes of Highway 281.
“The pilot said ‘hang on’ a half a second before we hit the ground,” Swan said.
Swan managed to escape injury for eight years as a Marine Sgt. in Afghanistan. He was sitting with his legs hanging out the door of the helicopter with his feet resting on the skids. The impact sent him spilling out onto the asphalt.
Swan says he suffered a badly broken ankle, broken tailbone and injured lower back.
“It’s probably the most painful thing I’ve experienced,” Swan said.
The crash is still being investigated by the NTSB, but Swan’s attorney, Ladd Sanger, who is a pilot himself, believes the chopper ran out of fuel. NTSB documents we obtained indicate the helicopter was operating with a Part 91 “General Aviation” certificate, not a Part 135 “Commercial Charter” certificate has tougher safety standards.
“That means that you have maintenance programs, that means you have FAA oversight, that means you have an operations manual, you have a chief pilot, you have a director of operations, you have training standards,” says Sanger.
Sanger claims many hog hunt operators are taking advantage of a loophole that allows them to fly up to six hunts a year with just a “General Aviation” certificate, if they stay within 25 miles of an airport and notify the FAA ahead of time.
He says the FAA needs to eliminate that loophole, or else more hunters will end up like Thomas Swan, whose injuries have made it difficult to continue farming.
“It was definitely a scary experience that’s for sure, the scariest experience I have ever been through,” Swan said.
We contacted the two companies that organized the trip, Heli Gunner and Lift Inc., neither had any comment. We spoke to other companies in the business who say before going on an aerial hunt you should ask if the operator has a Part 135 “Commercial Certificate.”