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Grumman Goose Crash on Take-off
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12/31/2005 5:04 PM
Back in the â€œolden daysâ€, when Tamarindo was a small village and everyone knew everyone else, filmmaker Bruce Brown chose the town to shoot a segment for his new movie "Endless Summer II". The sequel to the famous surfing movie "Endless Summer" came a generation later than the original, and, of course, featured new stars: Wingnut and Pat O'Connor, together with one of the originals, Robert August.
Living in Flamingo at that time was a pilot, "Hoot" Gibson, who had spent several years obtaining his commercial license in Costa Rica. Hoot owned a vintage Grumman Goose seaplane, relic of World War II, and intended to charter it for tours. Given the state of the roads then - and not much improved since - a seaplane seemed the way to go to explore a country surrounded by sea.
Robert August had a fine idea: To charter the Goose to fly the film crew and its surfers around the coasts of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama, looking for unknown or little-known surf spots to shoot their sequences. Apart from being much faster to cover more area, the aircraft was highly superior to a boat, which could only examine the waves from the "back", or ocean, side whereas a 'plane could approach from the landward side, too. "Endless Summer II" was Hoot's first charter in Costa Rica, and was to last two weeks.
On the first day, the Goose took off from the airport. The plan was to fly out to Cabo Velas, return along Playa Grande and land in the bay near Tamarindo estuary, where the crew would board, then to take off on their adventures.
The camera crew set up on Tamarindo Beach, ready to shoot the approach and landing for the movie. But instead of flying from Cabo Velas, approaching Tamarindo from the west along the Playa Grande coastline, the big Grumman twin came roaring down the river from the north, putting on a show for the camera. On board were the pilot, "Hoot" Gibson, and local resident and California board shaper, the late Mike "Doc" Diffenderfer.
Approaching Tamarindo, the pilot started a right turn to follow the estuary, but his height was insufficient. Presumably he suddenly became aware of the power lines which cross the river at that point, and was forced to fly below them. The right pontoon caught the water, and jerked the aircraft to the right. Overcorrecting, the pilot put the left float into the water, and the aircraft swerved to that side.
Gibson applied full take-off power to get the aircraft back into the air, but it careered from the river onto the beach, where it ground-looped and came to a stop. The whole incident was filmed, and eventually became part of the movie.
"At this point," said August, "we saw fuel spraying from the aircraft onto the sand, and there was a distinct danger of a fire or explosion. As we approached the 'plane, the doors opened and Hoot and Doc jumped out, fortunately both unhurt. From a nearby beach house, a resident came running, carrying a big club and shouting at the pilot that he was in a national park, and polluting the beach. We managed to calm him down, and the incident ended at that point."
Eyewitness Dean Butterfield adds: â€œI was up the hill looking over the estuary, watching Hoot Gibson fly the plane through it. He was doing touch and goâ€™s in the estuary, I was wondering why he felt he had to do that in there. As he came out to the mouth I think he saw the cable stretched across at the last minute and tried to duck under it. He caught the wing tip and stuffed it into the sand.
By the time I got down to it, there were a lot of people around. I took pictures and made a T-shirt from one.â€
Officials of Minae also attended the site very shortly after the accident, and charged the pilot with flying in a protected zone (Parque Marina las Baulas). As a result, Gibson's license, obtained over several years, was withdrawn after one brief flight.
"As it happened, the club-bearing resident did quite well out of the crash." August continues. "The plane suffered damage to a wing and one of the propellers, and parts for a vintage seaplane are not procured at your local NAPA store, so the aircraft had to sit for a year or so while repairs were made. During this time the aircraft was parked in the resident's back garden, he and his family being paid for caretaker duty against theft or vandalism. I believe someone of the family slept in their garden ornament every night."
The day after the accident, filming continued with a scene where supposed crash passengers August, Wingnut and Pat O'Connor climb cheerfully from the Goose, carrying their boards, and run off to the surf.
Seriously concerned that accident investigators or other officials might confiscate the film shot up to that point, Director Bruce Brown hired a friend to hop a Sansa flight to San JosÃ©, thence to Los Angeles for processing. Fortunately, the film escaped customs examination but, arriving in Los Angeles, it was delayed a couple of days en route for the processing studio by the Rodney King riots, which occurred in the vicinity of the studio.
The Goose was eventually repaired and flown out of Tamarindo.
12/31/2005 5:04 PM
Past Forum User
1/3/2006 5:57 AM
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