A World War II-era seaplane, recently restored by a Puyallup father and son at the Pierce County Airport, was partly submerged and left stranded in the surf this week during filming of a Nicolas Cage movie on the northern Gulf Coast.
Now it’s unlikely to return to the Puget Sound area, where it had been scheduled to appear at Seafair later this summer.
“It’s done, poor sucker,” John Schell said. “And after all that work we’d done on it ...”
Schell and his son, Kevin, worked on the PBY-6A Catalina amphibious aircraft at Thun Field nearly every day for several weeks over the winter and spring. Five aviation mechanic students from Clover Park Technical College, where Schell once taught, volunteered to help.
The plane was owned by Schell’s friend and fellow retired pilot, Richard “Bud” Rude of Spanaway, who died this year while the work was under way.
Their project was featured in a Larry LaRue column in The News Tribune on June 6.
Schell and his crew did a complete interior and exterior rehab, including corrosion repair, and a paint job. They even flooded the inside with hoses and made sure a few small leaks were sealed.
But that didn’t keep the vintage floatplane from taking on water this week after an apparent hard landing in the surf off Orange Beach, near the Alabama-Florida state line, during filming of “ USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage.”
The movie tells the story of the Navy cruiser that was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sank in 1945. Hundreds of sailors died, but dozens were saved when a PBY pilot landed on rough seas and brought them aboard until rescue ships arrived.
Who would’ve guessed that art would imitate life, and that the restored movie aircraft would take a pounding, founder in the surf and not be able to take off again, much like the real seaplane 70 years ago.
Movie crews were able to continue with some filming, and passers-by couldn’t resist their own photo opps.
Schell didn’t go south to see any of the movie production. What news he’s received about the mishap has come from Noel Rude, the son of the late plane owner.
On Thursday, Schell said he was told the beached PBY was about to be placed on airbags and loaded on a barge.
He said the saltwater saturation and other damage could be considerable. He surmised the plane could be salvaged for parts, or another collector could buy it from the insurance company with the hope of making it flyable again.
Either way, Schell doesn’t expect to see it again, which is disappointing to all who restored it in Pierce County.
The Schells and the Clover Park students left a little piece of themselves on the plane: On the tail, in small lettering, they printed their names.
“When it left here, it was in very, very nice shape,” he said. “We worked on it real hard for four months. A lot of work went into that baby.”