I was the agent accompanying the passengers on the shoreboat on our trip out to the seaplane landing float. It was the last plane out on that Labor Day weekend which had made a special trip to the island for the 28 waiting passengers. On board the approaching Sikorsky S-43 were Captain Bob Hanley and Co-Pilot Ken Brown. After a busy weekend at the island, often the many boats would churn the water so that it was roily and hard to see the true conditions.
The empty Sikorsky made a first pass over Avalon and prepared to setdown in Avalon Harbor. As the Sikorsky touched down on the surface of the water, she struck a submerged mast, which tore open the hull near the rear step of the aircraft. The aircraft pitched forward sharply, rocked backwards and stopped almost immediately. Water began rushing in, quickly filling the hull.
In an effort to save the aircraft from sinking, Captain Hanley gave the crippled Sikorsky full throttle and headed toward the island. With both engines roaring and water gushing into the hull, Captain Hanley was barely able to reach the seaplane ramp at Hamilton Cove, where he got the Sikorsky up the ramp and partially turned around when the old turntable gave way and collapsed under the weight of the aircraft, damaging one of the outboard pontoons when it struck the old gas house.
Obviously, most of my 28 passengers opted to return to the mainland by boat, while some of them stayed the night and were transported the next morning via Grumman Goose. A few weeks later, after removal of seats and other non essentials items and with a temporary patch job to the hull, Captain Hanley got it into the air and it returned to Long Beach where it was repaired and put back into service.
The year before, Amphibian Air Transport had purchased a barge from the San Pedro area with the intent of using it as a floating seaplane base with up and down ramps attached to the barge so the airplanes could taxi out of the water and on to the floating barge. Soon after it's arrival, it took on too much water overnight and almost sank before going into service. A quick call to the Coast Guard and some masterful pumping saved the new barge.
The first winter was devastating to the ramps, which were built of wood. The following spring, steel ramps were built and installed on the barge. Over the summer, these new ramps proved to work very well, so all of the aircraft were now docking on the dry barge.
It should be noted that Amphibian Air Transport also went to Los Angeles International Airport as well as Burbank and Long Beach. Our office in Avalon was in the Waikaki bar which in later years burned down. All reservations and information had to be handled by teletype. Baggage, ticketing and check-in were at the office from which the bags were transported on wheeled cart to the pier and loaded on the shore boat. Passengers were then put on the shoreboat and taken to the small float where the arriving Goose used it's engines to manuvere
into place on the floating dock. In rough weather, this was often precarious for all participants including the passengers.
The airline closed down soon after Labor Day in 1949. It had lost one of it's S-43's in an unfortunate mishap and the very seasonal nature and high cost of maintenance of the equipment all served to make it impossible to maintain a profitable existence.