The De Havilland Heron was working out well for Seagull Air Hawaii. The one-seat on each side of the aisle with large windows gave those on the air tour a great view of Hawaii. So when the request came to look for an additional aircraft, I started my search. The current Heron (N415SA) was a Riley converted model using Lycoming IO-540 engines. The search would be limited to those Riley conversions, to keep the growing fleet the same. Some interesting stories along the way...
Once the search was narrowed down, I planned on a trip to inspect each aircraft. My first aircraft was to be N81962 in Oklahoma City.
My first plan was to arrive at Midwest Jet Sales Inc, at Wiley Post Airport on Monday. When I called to confirm my arrival, the party on the other end seemed confused. I called to let them know that Tom would arrive on Monday and they said they had a note that would have me there on Saturday. When I asked them to read me the note, they said "Doris Tom would arrive on Saturday". Doris Tom operated Scenic Air Tour (Beech 18) next to Seagull Air Hawaii. She would watch N415SA go out each day loaded with tourist and recognized the reliability of the aircraft and saw the pleasure on the faces of the passengers at the end of the day tour. I was not surprised at her interest in the Heron.
I didn't take too much time to explain the difference between Doris Tom and Tom Anusewicz but did confirm that I would be there on Friday (one day before Doris, not after).
March 2, 1984 -
I arrived in Oklahoma and was excited to inspect N82962. The previous photos and verbal sales pitch were encouraging. My first encounter was with Edd Conn, the owner of this used aircraft sales business. He sat in his big chair, behind his big desk and I recognized that he had a ring on every finger on both hands. He stated that his Heron was the very best on the market and I would be please with this offering. He stated that it just received a fresh annual inspection and this aircraft was ready to fly to Hawaii. I told him that I would start with the aircraft records and then inspect N81962. He thought I should just look at the aircraft , give it a run-up and I would be pleased. I reaffirmed that I will start with the records. When I went to the maintenance office , I was directed to the file cabinet were the records were kept. The file draw was jammed with paper sticking out even when closed.
It took a little longer than expected to find what I was looking for but reviewed the logs and took notes on the serial numbers of various components. I was ready to inspect the aircraft. When walking towards the aircraft it looked pretty but the closer you got the worse it got. The various components didn't match the logbook entries, which would require removal and replacement with confirmed serviceability. After further review, I was surprised that a recent annual inspection was accomplished and signed off.
When I went to start the first engine, I smelled, then saw smoke coming from under the front console. I immediately shut down the electrical before taking a closer look at some recent electrical
work. Once again, not pretty. When I was reviewing the records, I became aware of that this airplane previously was operated by Swift Aire as N411SA. This was a sister aircraft to Seagull Air Hawaii's N415SA. I decided to call a former maintenance supervisor of Swift Aire that I worked with in the past. He informed me this aircraft was involved with a number of serious incidents including a gear up landing. He advised me to stay clear of this aircraft.
I told Edd Conn that I would pass on this aircraft and returned to Honolulu... but the story continues.
I was in my office in Honolulu when I got a visit from Doris Tom ( Scenic Air). She expressed surprise that I was aware of her interest in the aircraft in Oklahoma City and rescheduled to look at the aircraft before her. She was equally surprised that I didn't buy the aircraft. I told her the aircraft was not worthy of a purchase. She informed me that she bought it. She paid $100,000 cash and was the new owner and planned to bring it to Hawaii soon. I gave her a copy of my report that I compiled (always made a report of each aircraft I inspected) that would clearly indicate the serious deficiencies including a fraudulent annual inspection.
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Within an hour, I received a visit from Ellsworth Ching and Tom Murata both Airworthiness Inspectors with the FAA. They had the copy of the report I gave Doris and wanted to ask additional questions. Once they had the information, it wasn't difficult to have someone take a closer look...the FAA's presence in Oklahoma City certainly would be such to have someone stop by. Someone did and they found a number of interesting items, including that the IA that did the annual was non existing and they thought perhaps had conveniently died.
Ed Conn made it clear that all sales are final but would assist with any corrective action required before a ferry flight to Hawaii. Final preparations were made and Toby Alvis of Southern Cross would do the ferry. Toby was a good man who had ferried aircraft for me in the past. When I heard he was the guy, I contacted him to let him know he should do a through inspection for himself based on my earlier findings.
They would fly from Oklahoma City to California with stops along the way. Once in California, Southern Cross would install the ferry tanks for the long over water crossing to Hawaii.
Toby left Oklahoma City and planned to stop in Albuquerque, NM and then on to Scottsdale, AZ. As he approached Albuquerque, he lost both left engines and was not able to maintain altitude and prepared to put it down in the desert. He thought he positioned the aircraft for the best scenario ... but that did not work well. What he thought was fairly level desert terrain was disguised by the bramble bush and tumbleweed in the ditch. The ditch took the gear, the terrain took the wings and when it came to a stop... Toby walked away to fly another day.
When Doris got word that her aircraft was a total loss, she contacted Ed Conn to discuss their insurance agreement. Her understanding was Ed would insure to the west coast and Doris would insure to Hawaii. That was not Ed's understanding and no insurance was in place.
Doris paid cash for a bad airplane with no insurance and was out $100,000 plus. Scenic Air stuck with Beech 18's until further accidents and final bankruptcy years later.
N714R at Miami Opa-locka Executive Airport
March 4, 1984 - The second stop was to look at N714R in Malden, Missouri. My itinerary had me arriving in Cape Girardeau, were I met the owner of the Heron. We hopped into his Cessna 172 and flew the remaining miles south to one of many smaller airstrips dotting Missouri. Once we landed, we taxied to the only hangar and office on the field. Before I looked at N714R which was parked all alone at the end of the field, I wanted to review the aircraft records. The owner was very helpful and gave me his desk to work at during my review. I told him I would probably take a couple of hours or so and he said he was going into to town and to make myself at home and he would see me later. The best I could tell, I was the only soul at the airport.
After reviewing records and making notes of various component serial numbers, I then began my inspection of the aircraft. While I was inspecting N724R, I saw an aircraft on final and thought it to be larger than the normal aircraft utilizing this airstrip. This being my first and only time on this airstrip, what did I know about normal. The Convair 580 landed and taxied and parked in the vicinity of the office I had been working from. It was off in the distance and I could tell that there was little buzz of activity. I got to the point were I needed to return to the office and double check some numbers before completing my inspection. As I walked back into the office, I was surprised that the office was now full of the folks that got off the recent aircraft. I was not the only one that was surprised. The principal passenger was Senator John Glenn, The same John Glenn that was running for President in the 1984 Democratic primary. The Secret Service immediately came to me as I walked into the office. They quickly asked question,,, Who am I? ID please! My answers were not given them any quick relief . They were a little confused with my Hawaii drivers license and my story about the Heron in the field but within in 10 minutes we all seemed to be fine. Once cleared, John Glenn came bounding forward to introduce himself . Arm stretched out to give me a grand Ohio handshake when almost in unison his group said "He's from Hawaii!" Which seem to signal I was not voting anytime soon, so relax until their transportation arrived. They were preparing to go to a rally and planned to utilize this smaller field. They had a little issue with their transportation finding the field. We did actually chat for a few minutes which was kind of cool. Never excepting to have such an encounter with "The Right Stuff".
By the time the owner returned to the field John Glenn and entourage had left but he was wondering about the Convair 580 parked out front. I told him my story and he scratched his head... "Nothing much has ever happened on this field and today I go to town for a couple of hours" I said they will be back before dark to get airborne. For me, the inspection was completed and time to return to Honolulu. I told him I would be in touch.
When I returned to Honolulu, I completed my inspection report and passed it on to the new owners of Seagull Air Hawaii. I told them that N714R was a good candidate. I then left the company to join South Pacific Island Airways to fly as a flight engineer on their Boeing 707's