FAA looking into turkey drop at annual Arkansas festival

AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka

YELLVILLE, Ark. — The Federal Aviation Administration says it will check to see whether any laws or regulations were broken when a low-flying pilot dropped live turkeys onto an Arkansas festival over the weekend.

A turkey had been dropped on the annual Yellville Turkey Trot in northern Arkansas for more than five decades, though organizers and sponsors in recent years have distanced themselves from the practice.

Several birds were dropped Saturday and then chased by festival-goers.

Local animal rights activist Rose Hilliard  filed a formal complaint with the sheriff. She alleges the pilot “terrorized” the birds and violated state laws against animal cruelty and animal abandonment.

Festival organizers said they’ve received similar complaints, as they have in past years from animal activists, but the practice is not something they plan. In fact, it’s not even on the official schedule of events for the Turkey Trot.

The Yellville Area Chamber of Commerce has a letter posted to its website that reads in part, “We are in charge of planning the events that take place at the festival, the booths that are set up on our courthouse square, and the selling of Turkey Trot merchandise. The release of turkeys from planes has been a part of Turkey Trot for many years, but a third-party individual,
not affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce, regulates it. The Federal Air Administration has deemed it legal for this act to occur at our festival as long as it is performed within the parameters that they have set forth.”

“The phantom pilot is named as such for a reason. There is no airstrip in Yellville and therefore we do not have any authority in terms of flight control,” it added. “Furthermore, Chamber board members, Turkey Trot sponsors, and Chamber members have absolutely no affiliation, jurisdiction, or control over what any individual does in his or her private plane in the air.”

“We do not appreciate the residents of our area being threatened, their families being threatened, or the hateful language directed towards them. We do not see the good  that comes from threatening a living being in the name of another living being”

The FAA said Monday it was aware of Saturday’s drop. The agency hasn’t intervened in past years because the birds aren’t considered projectiles.