Photos: RNLI Rescue Boat Gives WWII-Era Floatplane an Assist

Image courtesy Kirsten Dawn Ferguson / RNLI

Published Oct 19, 2020 9:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday evening, the RNLI crew for Loch Ness received an unusual request for assistance. The lake is known as the home of the fabled Loch Ness Monster, and the vessel in need of help did look unusual and rather serpentine - but it was something different. A World War II-era Consolidated PBY Catalina floatplane, decked out in U.S. Army Air Force livery, was adrift on the lake. 

The crew of the Catalina ran into engine trouble while attempting to take off from the loch on Saturday, and they called for assistance at about 1750 hours. The RNLI volunteer lifeboat crew responded and got under way. With the plane sitting in the middle of Loch Ness and drifting, it was decided the safest way to help would be to establish a tow and move it to safety.

After some troubleshooting, the lifeboat hooked up a tow rope and slowly pulled the plane to safety in Urquhart Bay. With a wingspan of more than 100 feet, the flying boat was too wide to bring in to a berth, so they headed for a mooring buoy as the best option.

"Towing the Catalina would prove to be no easy feat. Fixing points are few and far between on such an aircraft, and the best option was underneath the tail, which barely cleared the bow of the lifeboat. Nevertheless, with some care, we managed to establish a towline," said crewmember David Ferguson. 

Darkness was approaching fast, and the crew used searchlights to keep track of their destination. They made the seaplane fast, and they helped its crew get safely back to shore on the other side of the bay. 

Once the aircraft was secured, the four crew onboard could safely disembark the aircraft. The lifeboat escorted the aircrew back across the bay and returned to their station.

PBY Catalina tail number 433915 "Miss Pick Up" belongs to the Catalina Society of Duxford, UK. She is one of a declining number of airworthy flying boats of her kind, and she is operated by a group of volunteers and shareholders.