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WWII-era seaplane makes unexpected water landing at Willard Bay after mechanical issue

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WILLARD — A World War II-era seaplane that took part in the Warriors over the Wasatch Air & Space Show at Hill Air Force Base over the weekend was in need of a tow Monday after coasting onto the glassy waters of the bay following a mechanical problem.

A large semi was brought in to help tow the PBY-5A out of the harbor Monday evening as officers and rescuers from multiple departments and agencies assisted as they could.

"We came out here today to do a touch-and-go on the water here before heading back to Oregon and had a small mechanical failure," Coy Pfaff, executive director of Soaring by the Sea Foundation, which operates the plane, explained. "One of the gear doors let go and the other one right after it and they punched a hole in the aircraft as they were torn away."

Why that happened was unclear, Pfaff said, but as a result, the plane took on water and had to coast onto the bay.

"There are no injuries. Everyone's OK," he said. "It was just a bit scary for those on board."

Pfaff said the plane carries a lot of history with it.

"This one was built in 1943 and it fought in World War II in the North Atlantic," Pfaff said. "In 1944, this one does actually have a confirmed sub kill — it sunk U-boat 342."

After the war, Pfaff said the plane had been used for multiple purposes, including to fight wildfires, and also as a film studio in Africa.

"It's pretty much been flying its whole life," he said.

A PBY-5A airplane is shown after a semitruck helped tow it out of the harbor Monday at Willard Bay.
A PBY-5A airplane is shown after a semitruck helped tow it out of the harbor Monday at Willard Bay. (Photo: Aubrey Shafer, KSL-TV)

Pfaff said finding parts for repairs likely won't be easy, so it was possible the plane might remain in the state anywhere from another two weeks to a couple months.

"It's going to be expensive and it's going to take some time, but we'll get it flying again," Pfaff said. "That's the goal."

As of late Monday evening, the seaplane remained in the parking lot, surrounded by orange cones and caution tape.

Onlookers who were used to seeing boats and jet skis on the water couldn't believe the sight of a World War II plane at a popular recreation site.

"We were like, 'What is that?!'" Chanelle Lund said. "That is the first time I've ever seen a plane out on the water!"

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