Floatplane splashes down at base
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:39 PM
"Tasha Horton was high above the Strait of Juan De Fuca last Wednesday when the seaplane she was flying in with five other passengers got quiet. Too quiet.Basically, we started stalling at about 1,200 feet and the pilot couldn't get the engine re-started, Horton said. The pilot was very calm, he told everyone to put on their life jackets and prop the door open.If the pilot was calm, conditions on the water below were not. Twenty-knot winds were pushing up lumpy, four-foot seas, as well as a heavy heavy ground swell.Before the day would end, a DeHavilland Beaver would make an unscheduled water landing and beaching at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station; a local salvage expert would get an unusual towing job and the plane's passengers would gain a lot of respect for the flying skills of Kenmore Air pilot Ray Mayes.But not before a few tense moments.Horton knew something was up, or on the way down, right away.As the Seattle-based sales and marketing director for Rosario Resort on Orcas Island, she'd been flying with Kenmore Air for about five years.Because I fly so much I knew immediately that it (engine) was stalling, she said.According to Kenmoore Air's Greg Munro, the Beaver floatplane was experiencing carburetor problems and running rough. Mayes decided it would be best not to try to continue to Orcas Island.He was given permission to land on one of the runways on the Navy base, but that was still three mile away and the plane was losing altitude. Besides, with no wheels on its floats, a runway landing would have damaged the plane. Meanwhile, the passengers were joining hands and trying to comfort each other.It was quite a bonding experience, Horton said, adding that Mayes set the tone.His calm lent you calm, she said. He was our hero in this whole thing. Once we landed, it kind of hit us more.Horton said the plane bounced off the swells three times before settling in. Mayes had positioned it so that the wind pushed the aircraft right onto the shore.Basically there were firemen there waiting so he (Mayes) jumped out of the plane and pushed it to the beach, she said. We probably got out in about a foot of water. The passengers were taken ashore, where they were provided transportation to another plane to Orcas.Mayes' day wasn't over, however. There was the matter of a $120,000 seaplane with engine problems. Capt. John Aydelotte of Cornet Bay-based Marine Services was called and responded in Able, a 44-foot, ex-Coast Guard rescue boat. Adeylotte and crewman Todd Michaud secured a tow line to the Beaver and cautiously started towing it back through Deception Pass and a dock at Cornet Bay.His concern, Adeylotte said, was to keep the top-heavy plane upright in the swell and wind. They (seaplanes) float just fine with the heavy part underwater, Adeylotte said. But they're not worth as much.Several times during the tow, Aydelotte had to adjust his throttles to keep in step with the plane as it surfed down a swell.Several times, the slackened tow line slipped off the cleats on the seaplane.Then the pilot would come out onto the very front of the pontoon and re-attach it, Adeylotte said. He was straddling the pontoons, hanging on with his arms and legs while he re-attached the tow bridle three separate times. He ought to get a medal.Eventually, boat and plane made it through Deception Pass and to the still waters of Cornet Bay.All's well that ends well, Aydelotte said. The pilot saved the passengers and we saved the plane.Horton agreed.If it wasn't for the pilot and his skill, I think we would have tipped over, she said.She also said she'd fly with Kenmore again.Any time, Horton said. Definitely."