On the way out

Back in April of 2003, I was lucky enough to be sent to Bimini to dive on the reefs there for work. The fastest way to get to the island is on the small Miami-based Chalk’s Ocean Airways. We flew down to Ft. Lauderdale and traded our shiny new Boeing 737 for a Grumman Turbo Mallard, a seaplane originally manufactured in 1947 for the US Navy. We trundled out onto the runway and took off from land for the 45-minute flight to the island. The plane was noisy, the flight was bumpy, and from my seat in the aisle (next to the landing gear) I could look five feet into the cockpit, where both pilots flew the plane in shirtsleeves with the windows open, allowing the smell of burnt kerosene from the engines to waft through the compartment. On our approach to the island, we were low enough to make out the beginnings of the reef, miles offshore. The pilots lined the plane up, and set it down gently in the harbor—for a brief minute, the window next to me was under the clear, brilliant blue of the water. We taxied up to the seaplane ramp and waddled back onto land, where the pilots turned the little plane around and shut it down. We spent the next seven days underwater in a completely alien world, learning all about fish, marine life, and diving, but I also was looking forward to my next ride on that ugly, beautiful airplane.

I was saddened to hear about the crash yesterday in Miami. The accompanying video footage is even more horrifying; The planes only fly three thousand feet or so above the water, but that’s far enough. Equally sobering is the fact that the wonderful, friendly people of Bimini only have two ways to commute to and from the island—by Chalk’s or by ferry. My guess would be that the plane was filled with residents of the island and not tourists—dive season is still months off. Either way, my heart goes out to those folks on the plane and their families.

Update: According to this site, N2969 was the plane that went down in Miami. There’s still no word on the NTSB site about the crash, nor the FAA’s (questionable) website.

Update update: Confirmed.

Date posted: December 20, 2005 | Filed under travel | Comments Off on An Unusual Ride.

Comments are closed.