Recovery of a Seabee

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Thunder Bay, Canada
 31 October 1981
Photo: © courtesy of Robert W. Arnold

01 June 1952: Pilot John William Donaldson is flying a Republic Seabee amphibian, CF-CDL (# 352) over the bush country of Ontario, Canada.  The Seabee is owned and operated by Fort William air taxi operator Superior Airways Ltd., founded by legend Orville J. Wieben.  He is alone in the airplane, enjoying the freedom of flight in true "Seabee" country...  Suddenly his heart makes a big jump; the engine changes noise!  Engine RPM rapidly increases over the danger mark, still the power is lost and and the airspeed is quickly decreasing.  He monitors engine instruments, fuel indicators.  The Seabee is famous for its "piano-like" glide ratio at power loss...  The aircraft is loosing altitude too quickly! He has no choice but making an emergency landing here and now!  The Seabee comes to rest on a high ridge of rocks, on the hills on the north shore of Lake Superior, some 3 miles north of Rossport, Ontario.  The Seabee is a sturdy airplane, so John escapes with minor injuries. 

The damage to aircraft is substantial; the boat hull is crushed in, so are the wing tips and the wing floats are torn off. The Seabee is too damaged to be repaired or rebuilt. 

It seems that Superior Airways soon recovered the Seabee and brought it back to Fort Williams (Fort William became part of Thunder Bay city in 1970).  Some parts, such as engine and landing gear were probably salvaged for spare parts for other Seabees.  Still, the evidence is that CF-FCD was stored quite intact for many years; the fuselage at a Wieben property in Fort William (Thunder Bay) and the wings at a Wieben property at Vickers Heights, a few miles outside Fort William (Thunder Bay).

The cause of the accident was originally suspected of being the propeller finding its way into neutral position.  This may have been due to reversed pitch control becoming disconnected and permitting the propeller to go into neutral position, something which could not be controlled by the propeller control inside the aircraft. However, later carburetor icing was also suggested as an alternative cause of accident, as when aircraft was visited, there was no evidence of the pitch of the propeller having gone into the neutral position.

The story of CF-FCD could have ended here.  However, in 1981 something happened that gave CF-FCD a "second chance"...  Below is the story, as told by Brian Burrage and Robert W. Arnold in 2015!

Thank you so much, Brian and Robert!



Dear Steinar

Please find attached some photos covering the recovery of Seabee CF-FCD for the Western Canada Aviation Museum (WCAM) in Winnipeg (Manitoba).

The recovery was undertaken by WCAM volunteers Bob Arnold and Bruce Emberley. The recovery was carried out with the use of Bruce’s Ford Bronco truck which came in handy for towing the museum's trailer.

The team departed Winnipeg early Friday morning, 30 October 1981 and made the eight hour trek to Thunder Bay arriving late that evening.

Early Saturday morning would find the crew plus one extra soul heading off to pick up the fuselage at the first of two Wieben properties as the wings were to be found at a different location.

All the photos were taken by Bob Arnold.

E-mails from Brian Burrage ( brian.burrage ), 17 and 18 February 2015.
E-mails from Robert W. Arnold ( baphotos77 ), 18 February 2015.



Saturday 31 October 1981: This shows Liz and husband Robin Webster. Liz is the daughter of Orville J. Wieben who founded Superior Airways. She and her sister Robbie both held commercial pilots licenses.  (Photo: © Robert W. Arnold).

After the aircraft crashed near Rossport, Ontario, a small hamlet located on the north shore of Lake Superior, the aircraft was dismantled and brought back to the Wieben property at Thunder Bay. The wings were stored at another Wieben property which was located at Vickers Heights, a few miles outside of Thunder Bay. Here they lay until November 1981. It appears that Liz Weiben contacted the WCAM and offered the aircraft (less engine), which was gratefully accepted.

Bob had already helped recover several aircraft from the bush under difficult conditions, often taking weeks of vacation to achieve. By comparison, this was an easy one, and only involved a long days journey from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay and return two days later.



Saturday 31 October 1981: This photo shows the fuselage being winched onto the trailer and now strapped down, ready to move on to Vickers Heights in the morning to pick up the wings.  (Photo: © Robert W. Arnold).



Sunday 01 November 1981: This shows the two wings being cleared of snow by Bob's uncle (in the red hat) and a colleague.  (Photo: © Robert W. Arnold).



Monday 02 November 1981: This shows the aircraft still on the trailer, but now safely back in Winnipeg at Bob Arnold's house. It remained here until the following weekend, when Bob towed it to the Keith Olson Farm, East Selkirk, where it was placed in outside storage for several years.  (Photo: © Robert W. Arnold).



Monday 02 November 1981: At Bob Arnold's. (Photo: © Robert W. Arnold).



Saturday 07 November 1981: The aircraft is being unloaded at a farm at East Selkirk, Manitoba, belonging to Keith Olson. Bob's Ford pickup truck being used this time. I commented to Bob that it looks like he is dumping it in the bushes. He explained that he was, as it was more sheltered than in the open, which makes sense, especially when it lay there for about 19 years!  Keith Olson was also involved with WCAM and stored several aircraft which included a Viscount forward fuselage section. East Selkirk is northeast from Winnipeg near the Red River.  (Photo: © Robert W. Arnold)



Saturday 07 November 1981: The gentleman in photo is Keith Olson, on who's property the aircraft remained until circa 2000. I met Keith during a visit to WCAM last May. And Bob of course. (Photo: © Robert W. Arnold)



Circa 2000, CF-FCD was moved down to its current location in a WCAM storage compound at St. Andrews Airport, outside of Winnipeg  This compound holds all the wrecked aircraft that have been recovered over the years and either await restoration or disposal to others or for some, sadly for final scrapping, as they are beyond help, without pots of money.

Western Canada Air Museum Website:

Click on photos below for large size!


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Updated: 2015-02-21

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