A single-engine amphibious plane that lost power north of Hearst Castle plunged into the ocean so hard that its doors broke off the hinges, one of the two men onboard said Monday.
The 77-year-old pilot and his adult son then sat in the aircraft in seas swelling with 8-foot-high waves and teeming with elephant seals for nearly two hours before a Coast Guard helicopter hoisted them to safety and their pontoon plane sank about 5 miles north of the San Luis Obispo-Monterey county line.
Stanley Shaw and son Stanford Shaw, 36, were flying at 1,500 feet over the ocean Sunday afternoon about five miles north of San Simeon when the aircraft lost power.
The Cessna 185 Skywagon pontoon plane, a six-seater the Shaws have owned for 20 years, was carrying the men from Camarillo Airport to British Columbia for an annual salmon fishing excursion in Canada.
“We flew it two hours without a problem; then there was a loss of power,” Stanford Shaw told The Associated Press from his Santa Barbara home.
“It was pretty big seas,” he said. “We hit three times. It broke the doors off the hinges. We hit the first time and bounced way up in the air. We hit again and on the third one, we hit like a belly flop.”
The plane’s beacon alerted rescuers to the aircraft’s whereabouts a mile offshore.
The Shaws put on life jackets and sat in the floating airplane for nearly two hours with a CHP Cessna circling overhead before an Alameda-based Coast Guard helicopter began hovering over them and hoisted them to safety.
“When the helicopter got there, the left wing went into the water,” the younger Shaw said. His dad was hoisted into the helicopter first. Then it was his turn.
“The water was hitting my back. I was standing on a pontoon when the helicopter hoisted me up and the airplane sank,” Stanford Shaw said. “I didn’t even get my hair wet.”
Both men came away without a scratch.
“It’s just amazing,” he said. “My dad is one the best pilots.”
The plane is in less than 100 feet of water, and the Shaws will have to raise it because it’s in a marine sanctuary.
“The most hair-raising part was the landing in the big swells,” the younger Shaw added. “You were right there with the big elephant seals and great white sharks, although I didn’t see any sharks.”
The Shaws were taken to Paso Robles Municipal Airport, where they rented a car for the drive to Santa Barbara.
But they had a quick stop to make.
“We went to Walmart and got him (his dad) dry clothes,” Stanford Shaw said. “We’re just thanking our lucky stars.”