Three people aboard a sightseeing biplane that made an emergency landing in shallow water off Marathon Monday afternoon were rescued by the plane's owner, who happened to be flats fishing nearby when the aircraft went down.
There were no reported injuries in the 2:30 p.m. water landing, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Federal Aviation Administration.
"I lifted my head up, cleaned shrimp from my hook and I heard something strange to my right," said Conch Air owner Paul Goodwin. "I thought it was a catamaran turning over. I looked over and it's my plane. I was fishing 300 yards from where it happened. My girlfriend and I were the first there. She said it was my plane twice before it registered."
In his flats boat, Goodwin picked up his pilot and employee Alvin Reinauer, 37, of Key Largo, and Reinauer's two passengers: Maurizio Vidulich, 61, of Melbourne, and Nicholas Garcia, 35, of Marathon, said FWC spokesman Bobby Dube.
Garcia and Vidulich were taken to Fishermen's Community Hospital as a precautionary measure, but they told officers on the scene they were uninjured, Dube said.
Reinauer told FWC officers that the engine of the 1989 Waco single-engine, fixed-wing aircraft began sputtering before he lost power and was forced to bring the plane down in about 15 feet of water on the oceanside of Marathon, about a half-mile off Sombrero Beach, Dube said.
All four people were wearing life jackets when the plane went down, Dube said.
"All ended up well and we got a good, happy ending for the holidays," he said
Goodwin said he is on the water only once or twice a year, and noted the coincidence that he happened upon his own plane's emergency landing.
"It's some kind of weird, freaky karma thing going on," Goodwin said. "The marine patrol know me and they expected to see me all wet when they pulled up. I'm always flying. I don't have a chance to fish."
Goodwin said his pilot and the passengers were very calm after the landing. The owner was unsure what caused the engine malfunction, but said the FAA is investigating.
Conch Air's website describes the yellow and red plane, based at the Florida Keys Marathon Airport, as a replica of a 1935 Waco sport aircraft.
Goodwin said the plane was a total loss, and his company's future is uncertain.
"This essentially wipes me out and it's time to reassess if I want to keep doing this," he said.
Goodwin has another replica plane, but that is purely for acrobatics and not for tourism flights, he said.