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FAA, PETA keeping an eagle eye on ‘cruel’ Arkansas turkey drop

First Published Oct 08 2011 09:24 am • Last Updated Oct 08 2011 09:27 am

YELLVILLE, Ark. • No one in the northern Arkansas town of Yellville will say if they expect wild turkeys to fall from planes for this year’s Turkey Trot festival. But the Federal Aviation Administration says it is watching.

Organizers of the festival long ago disavowed the tradition of letting wild turkeys fall from low-flying airplanes as spectators watched them glide to the ground.

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The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called the event cruel and offered a $5,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest. And the FAA has tried to crack down on pilots who participate.

But someone continues to drop the turkeys. FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford tells the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/riRPHL) that no one in town will say who’s responsible.

"Everybody says, ‘We have no idea who it is,’ but everybody knows who it is," Lunsford said in an article published Friday.

As of late Friday, Lunsford said the FAA hadn’t received any reports of turkeys falling from planes over Yellville. A Marion County Sheriff’s dispatcher also said she hadn’t received any such reports. The festival continues Saturday.

The Turkey Trot pays homage to one of the state’s biggest exports. Arkansas was the third-largest turkey producer of any state in 2010.

First held in 1946, the festival is also an attraction in the 1,200-person town. It includes a turkey-calling contest, a turkey dinner, and beauty pageants. And it once included a sanctioned "turkey drop" from the top of the local courthouse.

Now, the turkey drop is conducted by private citizens, Yellville Chamber of Commerce President Travis Doshier said.

"They keep themselves pretty well secluded," Doshier told the newspaper. He said he didn’t know if they were planning another drop this year.

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It’s a scene that’s reminiscent of a 1978 episode of the TV series "WKRP in Cincinnati," where the manager of a fictional radio station sends a helicopter to drop turkeys over the town as a Thanksgiving promotion — and later proclaims, "As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

The FAA has tried to crack down before, Lunsford said. Officials have spoken to event organizers and at least one pilot who flew turkeys in the past.

The agency this year is watching for planes. Lunsford said pilots who participate risk losing their licenses.

"If a plane flies over and a turkey comes out of it, we’re going to be talking to somebody," he said.

Fans of the drop say it doesn’t hurt the turkeys because they can use their wings to slow their descent. Doshier said the turkeys "just spread those big old wings they’ve got and glide" to the ground.

"We know that they can get up in the air because they get on trees and roofs," he said.

But Lunsford says he’s seen video of a turkey falling straight down and bouncing off the roof of a building.

Roger Vickers, the sheriff in Marion County, told the newspaper that some turkeys do get hurt, "but that’s going to happen with anything."

"It depends on what they fly into," he said.

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