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Worker dies in fall from East Deer tower

By Liz Hayes
VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A West Virginia man frequently called upon to service Pittsburgh area communications towers died Monday after apparently falling from a radio tower.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office identified the man as Daniel Plants, 51, of West Virginia. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 4:10 p.m. An autopsy is scheduled for today.

A teenage girl walking her dog near Cambria Hill Drive after school noticed a man's body lying on the ground beneath the tower and called 911.

Allegheny County and East Deer police were on scene for about three hours Monday, but left without commenting to reporters. A message left for East Deer police was not returned.

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The tower's owner and local television crews said Plants frequently was hired for tower maintenance.

"Anybody in broadcasting knows him," said the Rev. Loran E. Mann, general manager of gospel station WGBN 1150 AM. "He's the guy everybody calls for tower work."

Mann said the man later identified as Plants was dismantling a WGBN tower that was damaged during a spring storm. Between damage from the storm and portions the contractor already had removed, Mann estimated the 225-foot tower had been reduced to about 170 feet.

An orange duffel bag and support cable could be seen dangling from the top of the tower on Monday. A ladder truck from Guyasuta Volunteer Fire Department in O'Hara was called upon to remove the man's belongings.

According to a spokesman for the medical examiner's office, Plants was wearing a safety belt or harness when he was found.

The tower sits beside two others at the end of St. Regis Lane, a small road off Cambria Hill Drive in the Murrayhill Estates neighborhood. The towers are among several lining the bluff that overlooks Creighton and the Allegheny River.

Mann said Plants and his two sons were hired this summer to remove the damaged tower and to refurbish a taller tower nearby.

Mann said Plants was working by himself on Monday.

Maintenance on the 450-foot tower already had been completed, Mann said.

Residents were familiar with the contractor's work.

Jean Arnold and Nancy Summers, both of Garden Hill Drive, said they first noticed him and one of his sons painting the taller tower about a month ago.

"He was such a nice guy," Summers said. She recalled how he talked about his job and showed the women a beacon that was replaced from the very top of the 450-foot tower.

"They told us they never go up alone," Summers said. "They said it actually was pretty safe."

She said the men appeared to use safety harnesses.

Arnold said she walked by Monday morning and noticed the man was alone while working on the shorter tower.

Other neighbors said he seemed to be using welding equipment to slowly dismantle the tower. Debris that apparently fell from the top was scattered along the ground.

Linda Hobaugh of Cambria Hill Drive said she frequently saw Plants working alone atop the smaller tower in the past week. She noticed him shortly after 2 p.m. Monday, presumably just before his death.

"I'm so shocked," she said.

"Everyday he's been working on it, taking levels off," she said.

Mann said the radio station plans to replace the shorter tower.

WGBN remains on the air, although with a less powerful signal using only the taller tower.

Mann said he spoke with Plants recently.

"He's been in the business 30-some years," Mann said. "He has a wonderful reputation.

"He did the thing he loved."

Liz Hayes can be reached at lhayes@tribweb.com or 724-226-4680.
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