Vintage Plane Ditches In Seattle

Boeing 307 Stratoliner ditched Seattle Elliott Bay
A vintage passenger plane owned by the Smithsonian Institution crash-landed in Puget Sound near Seattle. All four people aboard were rescued.

The four-engine plane — the only Boeing 307 Stratoliner still in existence — crash-landed Thursday in West Seattle, across Elliott Bay from downtown near a barge and a waterside restaurant.

Built in 1940, named the Clipper Flying Cloud, it was one of only 10 Boeing Stratoliners — the first pressurized, commercial planes to fly "above the weather" from New York to Los Angeles in just over 12 hours, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whittaker.

So chic, eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes bought one. Shoved aside by World War II, this one fell into the hands of Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier. Eventually found crop dusting, this last of the mighty Stratoliners was lovingly restored over six years by Boeing volunteers.

The pilot and passengers were standing on the plane's wings when rescuers arrived from a nearby Coast Guard station.

The plane began to sink, though rescue boats towed it closer to shore. It came to rest in 60 feet of water, with its nose and wings underwater and its tail in the air, a fire department spokeswoman said.

"It's a very rugged airplane," said Donald Lopez of the National Air And Space Museum, who was awaiting its delivery. "The pilot was very good to put it in the water. He knew how to do it the absolute minimum speed, so the damage was minimized."

A truck will transport it to nearby Boeing Field, where workers will start the restoration work all over again.

The plane took off Thursday afternoon from Boeing Field and was in flight for about 30 minutes when the pilot requested clearance to return to the airport, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said.

The pilot reported having problems with his landing gear before he radioed a mayday.

Eckrote said three Boeing test pilots and an observer had taken the plane up for a pilot proficiency test. All four were checked at Harborview Medical Center and released.

West Seattle residents Cathy and Bob Horton said they had walked out onto their deck when Bob heard the plane's engine sputter. The plane had its landing gear down, they said.

"At one point we were wondering if he was going to get us," Bob Horton said. "He was sputtering and kept getting lower."

About 30 Boeing retirees volunteered and spent six years restoring the plane. The Stratoliner could carry 33 passengers and a crew of five.

Only 10 were built. Sixteen months after it was introduced, World War II broke out and Boeing's hopes for European sales were dashed. Boeing then focused on building the B-17 Flying Fortress, based on the same airframe and wings.

The aircraft was delivered to Pan American Airways in 1940 and named the Clipper Flying Cloud. It once served as the presidential plane of the notorious Duvalier, Smithsonian spokeswoman Claire Brown said.

Boeing employees came across the plane at the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, Ariz., and the company offered to restore it. Boeing flew it back to Seattle in 1994 and it was rolled out of the factory last summer.

The Smithsonian bought it from a private owner who had converted it into a crop duster.

It was to be the centerpiece of a Smithsonian exhibit scheduled to open at Washington Dulles International Airport in 2003.