Watch for loopholes—and falling turkeys.
Photo via Flickr user Tom French
What was arguably the most infamous episode of WKRP in Cincinnati aired on October 30, 1978, an episode in which fictional anchorman Les Nessman gave increasingly panicked commentary as live turkeys were dropped from a helicopter flying above the city. “Oh my God, they're turkeys!! Johnny, can you get this?” he asked. “Oh, they're plunging to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! Oh, the humanity!”
It’s one of the greatest moments in sitcom history. “The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement!” is a memorable line from the classic episode, one that was loosely based on a less-entertaining real-life event. For more than 50 years, the good people of Yellville, Arkansas have gathered for the Yellville Turkey Trot, an annual celebration of, um, turkeys, and of their willingness to watch as the birds are thrown from a circling plane.
The yearly Turkey Drop has attracted an increasing number of critics—animal-loving Motley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee recently wrote a letter of protest—and animal activists have asked the FAA if it could please step in and do something to prevent it. Unfortunately for the turkeys, the FAA has responded with: “Sorry, but that’s not technically against the rules.”
In a statement to Arkansas Online, Lynn Lundsford, an FAA spokesperson, said that the pilot followed the agency’s regulations, adding that the FAA could not investigate animal cruelty complaints. "The investigators determined that the flights violated no regulations because the birds were dropped away from the crowds at the festival," Lundsford said. "FAA regulations don't specifically deal with dropping live animals out of airplanes, so we have no authority to prohibit the practice. This does not mean we endorse it."
The Yellville Chamber of Commerce mumbled its own defense of the practice, claiming that although it was the organization that sponsored the Turkey Trot, the Turkey Drop was carried out by a third-party who wasn’t taking off from a runway within the city limits (because, well, there aren’t any runways within the city limits).
“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,” the Chamber said. “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 man flying the plane is known as the Phantom Pilot to protect his privacy, but the open secret is that it's allegedly Dana Woods, a pharmacy owner and city alderman from nearby Mountain View. According to the Arkansas Times, Woods runs the Phantom Pilot Facebook page, which mostly consists of taunting critics of the Turkey Drop. (MUNCHIES has reached out to Woods for comment but has not yet received a response.)
Yellville has already held its 2017 Turkey Trot-and-Drop but, if the FAA can’t intervene, then it sounds like the tradition won’t be stopped anytime soon. Not unless the mayor listens to Tommy Lee.