Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Plane Wreck of Norman's Cay

Those of us who have spent any time in the Out Islands are aware of Norman's Cay's shady past and the drug smuggling era in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The glory days of cash and cocaine was fairly short-lived for Colombian drug transporter Carlos Ledher in the grand scheme of things, but even now stories about those days linger around like the haze of a smoky bar.  

There is a plane wreck in the shallows just off of Norman's Cay. It's a popular spot to snorkel and there's a lot of speculation about the crash. I lived on Norman's Cay for two different stints and I've heard all kinds of stories from those who were around, and those who heard from someone who heard from someone about what really happened. The most common story was that it was a drug running plane which crashed due to a heavy load, I've also heard that it was an appliance company that was delivering materials to the island and crashed due to mechanical failures.
The real story may not be as exciting as some of the embellishments that have been created over the years, but here's the story from the mouth of Jack Reed, Carlos Lehder's first pilot and resident on Norman's Cay during the late 1970's. This excerpt is taken from the book 'Buccaneer' by Jack Reed & Maycay Beeler.

Photo Credit: Out Island Flyers

The Iconic C-46
"Another interesting event that occurred on the island evolved into a bit of an urban legend. It involved the arrival one afternoon of an old World War II aircraft. It was a C-46, a large twin-engine transport plane utilized to carry troops and cargo. It turned out that the pilot was an English man referred to as "British Andy." He had at one time done some flying for the organization. He discovered this old relic in Florida and found out that it was for sale. Thinking Morgan [Reed's nickname for Carlos Lehder] might be interested in buying it to haul cargo, he talked the owner into letting him fly it to Norman's Cay. Morgan wasn't interested in buying the plane, but invited Andy to spend a few days on the island.
Andy had a drinking problem, and had been known to take along a six-pack for company on many of his flights. Being on a short vacation seemed like a reasonable excuse for starting his favorite pastime first thing in the morning. One mid-morning, he decided to drop by the airport, being a bit tipsy, to fire-up the old sled and shoot some touch and goes, which is pilot language for practice take-offs and landings. He asked an unsuspecting Colombian lad to join him in his venture and off they went. 

As Andy made his approach for the first landing, he miscalculated the beginning of the runway and touched down short. Realizing his error at the last moment, he gave the old girl full throttle to execute a go-around. To his great dismay, he clipped an earthen berm, tearing the left landing gear loose from its housing, leaving it dangling from the aircraft by cables and hoses. The plane then dipped low enough for the propeller on the left engine to strike the runway - bending it - and rendering it useless. With the right engine roaring and straining to keep the plane airborne, a bit of altitude was gained. It was only enough to clear the runway though, and make a slow settling arc to the left, running out of flying speed and altitude about a block offshore of the marina in front of the hotel. The plane belly-flopped to a splashing spectacular halt in shallow water, about half of it submerged.
Many of us witnessed this fiasco. A boat at the marina made a quick trip to the site of the crash and rescued the two survivors, neither of whom had a scratch. Morgan furnished transportation for the embarrassed pilot back to the states. The plane has sat in this location for decades, deteriorating, and being slightly repositioned by passing hurricanes. 

Having become an iconic image of Norman's Cay over the years, it has been visited by countless snorkelers, curious boaters and relic collectors. Stories about its demise - the most popular tale being that the plane was too overloaded with kilos to fly, with its pilots high on coke - were created by the most vivid imaginations. Like most of the stories about the infamous Norman's Cay that I am aware of - only a few portray a semblance of the truth."

2 comments:

  1. Wow, great article! Very interesting to hear the real story.

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    1. Thanks Paul! Glad you enjoyed it. :)

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