Watch as Second World War flying boat engine failure sparks rescue on Loch Ness

The volunteer crew who operate the RNLI Lifeboat on Loch Ness have answered some bizarre calls over the years – including sightings of its famed ‘monster.

Sunday, 18th October 2020, 5:00 pm

However, their latest mission must rank among the most unusual after they were tasked with saving a stricken WWII Catalina flying boat which had suffered engine problems on the UK’s largest inland body of water.

The lifeboat was paged at 17.50pm on Saturday when the crew aboard the seaplane PBY Catalina called for help after they had experienced engine issues while attempting to take off from the loch.

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The crew onboard the lifeboat reached the aircraft soon after launching. With the plane sitting exposed in the middle of Loch Ness and drifting, it was decided the safest way to help would be to establish a tow and move it to safety.

RNLI to the rescue as Catalina drifts on Loch Ness
RNLI to the rescue as Catalina drifts on Loch Ness

With the shelter of Urquhart Bay close by, the lifeboat connected a rope and slowly pulled the plane to safety. With a wingspan of 32 metres, the Catalina – worth approximately £650,000 – was too wide to recover to a harbour or pontoon, so a mooring buoy was decided as the best option.

RNLI crew-member David Ferguson explained the challenges of towing something as big and unusual as this.

David said: ‘Towing the Catalina would prove to be no easy feat. Fixing points are few and far between on such an aircraft, and the best option was underneath the tail, which barely cleared the bow of the lifeboat.

"Nevertheless, with some care, we managed to establish a towline.”

Under tow: Massive Catalina had to be pulled by its tail

As darkness descended on the loch, searchlights were used to keep track of the mooring buoy, located near Borlum Pier.

Once the aircraft was secured, the four crew onboard could safely clamber onto a waiting boat and were escorted to dry land.

The Consolidated PBY Catalina was produced in the 1930s and 1940s. In Canadian service it was known as the Canso and was one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II. The last military PBYs served until the 1980s. The aircraft continues to fly as a waterbomber in aerial firefighting operations in some parts of the world. None remain in military service.

A message from the Editor:

'We're going to need a bigger boat' - RNLI crew tackle stricken WWII PBY Catalina

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Joy Yates

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