The Sad Story of the Seawind 3000 N8UU
For this post, I’m going to start with the NTSB report of an accident which took place on the 3rd of July 2021 on Lake Michigan. The aircraft was a Seawind 3000, a fixed wing single-engine amphibious aircraft. The defining event is listed as ditching, which seems odd for an amphibious aircraft and the poor little aircraft might not feel that it fulfilled the criterion of “successful”.
The pilot reported that he was in cruise flight at 5,500 ft in his amphibious airplane with the landing gear down over a lake on the last leg of an 8-day cross-country trip to his home airport, when the engine “sputtered” several times and then stopped operating. The pilot reported that at the same time the engine lost power, a “burnt” smell also entered the cockpit. The pilot conducted a forced landing to the lake. During the landing flare the landing gear caught in the water and the airplane nosed forward into the lake. The airplane came to a stop on the surface upright but began to fill with water. The pilot was rescued before the airplane sank.
The Seawind 3000, registration N8UU, had been purchased by the new owner shortly before the accident. The pilot was alone in the aircraft and he was rescued before the aircraft sank, so that’s a pretty good outcome. In fact, it is an amazing outcome considering the situation.
The pilot had recently purchased the airplane and was flying it back to his home airport. The pilot reported several issues with the airplane that resulted in several mishaps during the 8-day trip. During the forced landing, the pilot was unable to put down flaps, or retract the landing gear, because the airplane had no hydraulic pressure. In a conversation with the FAA, and because of a previous issue with the landing gear, the pilot agreed to fly with the landing gear down to ensure a good landing at his destination.
The aircraft was not recovered from the bottom of the lake bed. The FAA representative based in Grand Rapids was rather dismissive of the query.
Sorry, I do not have [the pilot’s] email. I have attached a time line for this mess and there is no intention to locate or salvage the aircraft off of the lake floor. Let me know if you need anything else.
The timeline in question is the pilot’s statement which was used for the NTSB report. Actually, the one-page NTSB report is completely overshadowed by the pilot’s nine-page statement about the crash, entitled “Returning to Flying”. Forgive me for quoting liberally from this but it might be the most beautiful docket document that I have ever read.
I have edited it slightly for clarity. Please note that this is the pilot’s version of events; if we spoke to the original owner, things might look a bit different.
It starts with an explanation.
After twenty years, my sons had their lives and families budding and I wondered about flying again. When my boys were very young, we built an experimental aircraft. Lancair Super ES: all fiberglass with a 350 hp motor [which] seated four and took to flight after 22 months of building in the cabinet shop, which was located in Billings, Montana, flying to Bend, Oregon for the annual fly-in for Lancairs (over the Rockies of 14,000 feet). Deciding to be close to family in Florida, I sold the house we and my boys mother designed, the cabinet shop 5,000 foot building, auctioned the tools and took our first leg to Omaha, Nebraska. Spending the night there, we continued all the way to West Palm Beach, FL, the following day arriving at sunset.
These recollections continue, filling the first page of the report until the author finally gets to the point that in March 2021, he decided to purchase a Seawind 3000.
The Seawind 3000 is a kit plane designed in Canada; in 1999 the standard kit retailed for $59,000 with an estimated $50,000 of additional components necessary to assemble the aircraft. The company estimated it would take the average builder 2,000 hours to construct the aircraft.
This one, registration N8UU, had been put together in 2008. According the pilot, the owner supplied photographs and an information packet which showed the aircraft to be in pristine condition with a spotless engine.
The pilot initially paid a deposit of $1,000. Over the next few months, while he waited for his house to sell, he paid an additional $3,000 to the owner in order to ensure that the aircraft was not sold to another customer.
In June, the sale on the house completed and the pilot paid the remainder before flying to California to pick up the Seawind 3000, which was parked at Brackett Field airport, to take it home to Traverse City, Michigan.
He arrived at LAX and drove to Bracket Field to meet his new Seawind 3000 for the first time. But once there, he discovered that the aircraft had not been flown in two years and was not in quite as good condition as he had hoped.
The first problem was the brake cylinder on the pilot’s side was not working. [I learned] that the owner put it in with the hoses reversed. So his hangar buddy came out to troubleshoot it and reverse the lines and bleed the lines. This occurred after starting it and attempting a taxi test. The owner had used my deposits to purchase new main tires and tubes, headsets, Dynon instrument display repair and updating, ADS-B and a GPS antenna.
It was apparent that I had spent money on an aircraft that needed updating and because I sent deposits to hold it (past the time sensitive deadline) (which could have been null and void) that I was paying to get it airworthy.
It wasn’t additional money that he had spent, to be fair, but it is clear that even after this work, the Seawind was not in the condition that he had expected. The pilot refers to the seller as the owner, even though he had actually already purchased the plane. In any event, he goes on to explain that the owner seemed to feel that the condition of the Seawind was just fine.
The owner mentioned that the hydraulic gauge doesn’t work once in a while and to just tap it. He also said to just use the left aux. fuel pump; the one on the right had a button light not working.
The pilot said that when he asked why the aileron trim was not working, the owner said that it was coupled with the autopilot and would work when the autopilot was activated. A further issue with the elevator trim was similarly “brushed off” as being part of the autopilot.
After a long day of commercial flying and review of the Seawind, including lunch at the airport of which he wanted me to pay for his lunch, which I did not. He paid and it was the worst burger. One bite was enough; he took me to a local hotel for the night.
The following day, the pilot discovered that the aircraft logs had been lost and the owner had recreated them “to the best of his abilities”. He also discovered that the owner was not current and would not be able to check out the pilot on the type; in fact, the owner refused to go up with the pilot at all. The pilot took the Seawind out for a flight on his own. He flew three circuits trying to trouble shoot the nose pitching up without inputs and then decided to land.
Unfortunately, he forgot to lower the gear.
Setting down on the center line, the aircraft made a loud bang when hitting the center board and skidded down the runway a couple hundred yards to a stop. Shutting off the engine, realizing my error. After considerable time (shutting down the runway), we jacked it up with floor jacks and swung the gear down and locked. The right wheel had pinched a hole in the innertube but held until we pulled [the aircraft] off the runway and back to parking. The owner offered to take me to Aircraft Spruce to get a new tube and when we returned, one of his friends helped to get it repaired and reinstalled.
The previous owner remained to answer a few more questions about the instrument display. Then the pilot was stunned to hear that the owner was not able to return the next day. He was on his own with his new plane.
With a sinking feeling, the pilot departed Bracket Field at 15:00 for a night flight to Taos, New Mexico. During the cruise, he found that the nose-up problem was getting worse and said that he had to use his knee, padded with a rag, to keep the aircraft in level flight. After about 45 minutes, he decided against continuing. He contacted the tower at Farmington in New Mexico to say he was inbound to the airfield. He was cleared to land on runway 7 but as he entered the pattern, he found that “it quickly turned to night”.
Following the airport beacon, I entered the right base and all lights were on and there was no landing light. I called the tower and informed them that I was in the dark. The Dynon [instrument display] also went dim and I had to use my phone light to activate the display to get brighter so I could read my speeds. Turning final, I had full pressure on the yoke to hold the nose down and I couldn’t see the runway.
The runway side lights were on but, as he says, it was his first night landing in over twenty years. As he crossed the threshold, at about 10 feet above the runway, he pulled back on the power but the aircraft ballooned up. He considered growing around but, he says, it was black. Continuing seemed somehow the better option.
With no visual references, he stalled the aircraft and it came down hard slightly to the left of the runway.
Realizing that the plane was on the ground, I pushed in the throttle and kept it from stopping and powered back to the runway and taxied to the ramp. The ground crew were there and secured the aircraft and gave me a courtesy car with directions to the local Fairmont Marriott for the night. I was shaking most of the night from this experience and did eventually get some sleep.
The next morning, the pilot discovered that the hard landing had caused some damage to the tail. Then when he applied power, he ran into a runway sign scraped the underside of the left swing, ripping the left wing flap. The linemen at Farmington had taken photographs and informed the pilot that they had notified the FAA who would very much like to speak to him.
After a lengthy explanation of landing in the dark without a landing light and wiping out a couple of runway lights and a runway length sign, the FAA was satisfied with my explanation. and having a satisfactory flight without busting any airspace parameters to the way to Farmington NM.
I should note that the pilot’s licence was valid and he’d renewed his medical two months before, so there were no obvious grounds for the FAA to do more than to clarify what had happened. The pilot found a certified aircraft repair hangar at the airfield and the mechanic there agreed to repair the aircraft, including looking into the issues that the pilot had found during the flight.
Riveting the flap and finding the trim tab servo on the tail elevator was pulled out from the servo. This caused the tremendous pressure to hold the nose down because it was stuck holding it up with the force of the wind. Upon further inspection found it was installed incorrectly from the construction of the aircraft. The threaded rod was only in 5/16: on one side of the clevis and an inch on the other. So the Mechanic was kind enough to take me to a hardware store and get a longer rod and put it into the servo correctly and test it. These repairs took 3 days to do along with other issues that were recommended to me by the CM.
Finally, he was ready to continue his flight.
My plan was to go north along the western slope of the Rockies to avoid the approaching front that was from Taos NM to Chicago and east was not the way to get over the mountains.
He encountered some weather but was able to remain in VFR and continued north, following rivers and highways. He was much happier with the aircraft in flight but noted an issue with the left aileron.
The left wing aileron trim tab servo was stuck slightly up. The previous owner said this trim only works with the autopilot on (well that is bull) so turning east after a long two-hour flight up the western slope, I had realized that the nose wanted to pitch up again. and it was getting worse. Holding again the yoke forward with my knee and a rag to help the pressure I continued to O’Neal, NB.
He means O’Neill Municipal Airport (KONL) in Holt County, Nebraska.
Once again, the aircraft pitched up and ballooned as he crossed the threshold.
So I applied full power to keep it from stalling more than 10 feet over the runway and to the left. I managed to pitch nose down and skipping crisscrossing the runway and through the grass, I climbed to a safe altitude. The airport manager called on the radio and asked if I was OK. Then it went quiet. I was on my own.
Upon getting to the runway the aircraft lifted again without any imputes and this time I applied pressure and bounced it off the runway and over a couple runway lights that got wrapped around the landing gear. So after the third attempt and the exact thing happening I forced it to the ground with higher speed and firm pressure on the yoke when it popped up and forced it to the ground and off into the grasses and eventually back onto the runway and taxied to an awaiting golf cart and an airport manager and wife team that got me to calm down from shaking. The same problem all the way trying to land this plane.
The airport manager left a comment on Kathrynsreport about the incident. “I’m the airport manager at KONL. I spent three days with this fellow. He landed gear up the day he bought [the aircraft] for 100+ grand in California. Then [he] ran off the runway in New Mexico, wiping out landing lights and the left flap. He repaired it, then we were his next stop. Five attempts to land, last one lost it on landing, creamed two runway lights.”
The airport manager wrote that the weight and balance was “way aft, outside the envelope” which was why the pilot was struggling to land. Various issues were discovered with the aircraft, including that the servo trim motor, which had broken again, was not the correct motor for the trim.
The pilot ordered a new servo trim motor which was delivered to the airfield. He purchased some sand from a DIY store and filled a number of one gallon ziplock bags which he placed into the bow of the aircraft to deal with the center of gravity issue.
Putting in the new servo was a bit difficult due to the access plate being off-set of the screws to remove it. So I had to drill small holes in the horizontal stab to insert a straight screwdriver into and guide with my fingers in this very small space. Getting them out was easy compared to installing the new one. balancing the screw after inserting into the hole and finding the whole to get it into to screw it down. After a few hours , it was done. Needed to have connectors for each colored wire. With 2 white wires left to go into a white and a gray I tried it out and it worked perfectly. The folks at and the airport were most helpful with tools and food. The last two nights I was able to sleep in the small terminal room that had a couple beds for tired pilots. also a lounge room. Getting up early each day to the sunrise and making coffee for the morning regulars who stop by and share stories.
Once the repairs were done, he prepared for the next leg of his flight to Michigan.
The Manager and his wife were very busy and I didn’t want to bother them anymore as I had made good friends with them as they were EAA buildiers and came from Virgin Galactic as engineers, and prior to that Blue Origin.
Of note: we are now halfway through the pilot’s explanation of how his Seaplane 3000 ended up at the bottom of the lake.
Upon departure, he found that the new trim tab was not working. The aircraft was pitching up and he struggled to keep it under control. He entered the pattern to come around for an immediate landing. He forced the aircraft down this time but again bounced hard to the left, this time bending the left landing gear and scraping the brake cylinder. Another pilot brought out the tug and they pushed it into the hanger. They recommended that he abandon the aircraft and just fly home, saying they would leave the aircraft as a display at the entrance of the airport.
After looking at the trim, I had put the gray wire on the wrong terminal. So it was flipped. What I thought was up was actually down. The indicator on the instrument panel was reversed. I didn’t want to bother anyone for a a second opinion.
He got a jack and tools from the airport manager and removed the brake and the aluminum leg from the landing gear. He took “the courtesy car” to try to find a metal shop and, he tells us, he found a John Deer dealer where he went in and they gave him directions to a metal shop which was just around the corner.
They removed the tire and brake and took the leg over to the large hydraulic brake and straightened it.
Although I have never tried to repair an aircraft and, maybe I am a bit overcautious, the repairs are sounding more and more worrisome as this saga goes on. But the pilot was apparently happy (and still not interested in a second opinion). He put the plane back together and slept one last night in the terminal.
He woke to bright sunshine the following morning and rewarmed some coffee before going out to the hanger. Although the airport manager and his wife lived on the airfield, the pilot decided he didn’t want to wake them, so he attempted to push the Seawind out of the hanger on his own.
Getting a few feet, I decided to just fire it up and get going. Taxied out to the runway and with full power lifted eastward into the morning sun. All things were normal. The takeoff, climb, and when getting into cruise at 7500 feet, the plane performed with finger touch control on the trims. Auto pilot was hands off, with a slight lift on the yoke to compensate for the non working left aileron servo motor. The trim was slightly stuck in the up position.
The airport manager told the story a bit differently, saying that the pilot was lucky to be alive. “It was like watching two trains heading towards one another…nothing you could do.” He said that both he and his wife separately tried to convince him to ship the aircraft home to Michigan and take a commercial flight rather than fly it; however, the pilot was “hellbent on gethomeitis” and that the FAA, after verifying his credentials, said to let him go. According to the airport manager, the pilot sneaked out on Saturday without paying.
He doesn’t tell us about the planning for the next leg of the flight but he seemed to have been flying to Schoolcraft County Airport in Manistique, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
This flight was blissfully without incident until the pilot was almost at his destination, when he heard a loud clunk behind him. The left main gear had come down on its own and wasn’t registering any hydraulic pressure. At this point he also realised that the fuel gauge on the right side showed 5 gallons of fuel while he still had 35 gallons on the left side. This means that the fuel was not automatically flowing between the two tanks in the aircraft wings and that the aircraft, with its centre of gravity shifted forward by sand bags in the bow, was now quite a bit heavier on the left side.
Getting close to the airport, I announced my intentions and asked if there was anyone there to help see if the gear was down.
As he flew parallel to the runway, the right main landing gear came down on its own as well and he saw that he had two green lights. “Three greens” is a visual check that all three landing gears (left, right and nose) are down.
Now just give me the nose. I cycled the gear switch but nothing happened. The gauge was at zero pressure. Turning left to base and, to my surprise, the engine sputtered as if to stop and after leveling out on base, it ran normal. Then on the turn to final it sputtered again, the fuel was flowing away from the boost pump. So leveling out on final, I had the engine running with less than four gallons of fuel and both main gear down and the nose gear still not down.
This time, he was pleased that the aircraft flared “without popping up” and he landed on the main gears, keeping the nose up in the air for as long as he could. After the nose came down, the aircraft skidded to a halt. He climbed out and was pleased to see that there was minimal damage to the gear door and nose skin.
So, looking back at the terminal about a half mile away, I hiked back over the brush and small lumps and ruts on this hot day. Getting there and seeing no one was there, but doors open for pilots I went in and pondered what to do. My cell phone was turned off due to non-payment (maxed card) .
He quickly reassures the reader that he had paid his phone bill, just that the payment hadn’t gone through yet because of the holiday weekend.
He saw a motel across the road and spoke to the new owners, a nice couple from Traverse City, who let the pilot use their phone to call his son and then take him to a tractor supply store to buy a couple of quarts of hydraulic fluid.
I thanked him for taking time out when he clearly didn’t have time to do so. As I turned, the Michigan State Police with sirens and flashers came flying by, entered the airport, onto the runway and out to the crippled plane. Turning back, I thanked him again and said, “This is my cue, got to go.” It was the excitement of the day for Manistique.
He returned to the terminal and sat on a picnic table until the police saw him and drove back. He confirmed that he was the only occupant of the aircraft and that he was OK, and that he’d only left to purchase some hydraulic oil to get the gear up (I’m pretty sure he means down) and the aircraft off the runway.
They escorted him back to the aircraft where a police officer lifted the nose while the pilot pulled the gear down, after which he was able to taxi the aircraft to the terminal fuel up area. The pilot shut down the engine and explained that he was now waiting for his son to arrive with his credit card so that they could refuel the plane, but it was about a three-hour drive.
He seemed surprised that the police officers phoned the FAA.
Once again I was on the police phone talking to them explaining what had occurred.
He told the FAA representative that he was flying home to Boyne City, a 25 minute flight, and he agreed that he would leave the gear down so as to ensure a safe landing.
The pilot’s son arrived with the pilot’s grandchildren, as their mother was working.
They really enjoyed sitting in the airplane and asking questions and seeing other small planes come in and park across from us. They had never been in an airplane before and wanted to go for a ride, which I quickly said was not a good idea, mom would not approve. And neither did I.
Well, thank goodness for small mercies.
When the pilot opened the right wing inboard tank, he was surprised to discover that it was full of fuel. The left inboard tank, which had shown as 35 gallons, however, was almost empty.
The gauge was opposite of what the fuel was. That’s why it sort of sputtered when turning left. Why was the tank not flowing? All switches were on and aux fuel pumps were on, except that the right switch was on but no indicator back light was on. Did this pump fail? I had been told they flow together, only the outboard tip tanks needed to be pumped.
Basically, some aircraft mix the fuel from the wings automatically and some aircraft require the pilot to shift between the two tanks during flight to keep them balanced. The Seawind has a header tank which is automatically filled from the right and left tanks; as the pilot said, only the wing tips, which hold additional fuel for long-range flights, require the pumps to transfer fuel into the main tanks. However, you can also pump the fuel from side to side if you have an issue like this, where the fuel isn’t balanced between the wings. However, to do this, you rather need your gauges not to be reversed.
Somehow, after asking all these questions, the pilot decided that the correct course of action was to refuel the empty left tank and carry on to Boyne City, noting that he felt bad about his son having to drive all that way with the kids to rescue him.
As they waited off and on the grass next to the terminal, started the plane and taxied to the runway. They watched as I blasted off into the sky and I proceeded to climb to an altitude of 7500 feet to make my journey across Lake Michigan by way of Beaver Island and on to Charlevoix.
If all went well, he’d be home long before his son.
He climbed to 5,500 feet but found the aircraft was struggling to gain any more altitude.
He turned south to head across the lake.
After getting to the northern edge of the island, the engine started sputtering, then it was good, then sputtered again, by then I had passed over the island and was out over the water again. Then it sputtered, almost stopped, and I was attempting to keep it running by adjusting the mixture and throttle, but it stopped. Then I smelled burnt something coming into the cockpit. Realizing the island was closer I turned north in an attempt to get to the southern edge but quickly realized I would not make it. By then I was gliding down out of 5000 feet and I had to set it up for landing. Keep it at 90 MPH. I wanted flaps to help so I pressed the button and nothing. I looked at the hydraulic gauge and it was not registering any pressure at all. What was going on, I had just filled it. The pump must be out. So, no flaps. And the gear is down. This will be my first water landing.
Yes, it is an amphibious aircraft but you don’t normally land on water with your gear down. I’m going to have to regretfully conclude that I agree with the NTSB categorisation and call this a ditching.
The accident statement becomes almost poetic.
The sun was low on the horizon to my left and I could see the glitter of the sun on the water. Looking back at the panel and seeing my speed as steady and keeping the angle of descent I glanced back over the water and realized I could judge my altitude with the glittering of the sun over the small ripple of the water. Time seemed to slow and I was transfixed on the beauty of the sun over the water and keeping my eye on the water and the glide I could see it coming and it was close, a few more seconds and it was really close.
He pulled back to flare, hoping to stall the aircraft into the water. Instead, the gear struck the waves and the aircraft fell nose-forward with a splash, descending beneath the surface before popping back up. The pilot set all of the switches to off and opened the canopy.
[I] sat there looking at the sun. It’s a boat. I’ll float somewhere and someone will find me.
Then he turned the switches back on and set his transponder to squawk 7700, the international code for aircraft in distress. He made a radio call but received no response. The water was calm and he waited for someone to find him.
That’s when he realised that the aircraft was taking on water. He found a small plastic container and started bailing the water out of the aircraft. It soon became clear that he couldn’t keep up and the aircraft’s tail was starting to sink.
Looking around , what to get, what to leave. I had cargo shorts on with Velcro and I put my phone on one side and my wallet on the other. There was too much going on and I forgot I had 1 gallon zip lock bags: I could have protected my phone, the wallet could have dried out.
He pulled out the seat back as a floatation device and took his shoes off. As the cockpit filled with water and the left wing dipped under, he jumped onto the right wing. He was soon waist deep in the water with only the wing tip breaking the surface.
I looked around and thought of the Titanic, seeing all my stuff floating out over the big body of water.
The Seaplane, clearly not watertight, continued to sink and the cold water came up to his chest. He managed to grab the cowling and pull himself on top of the water and then inch his way forward. The nose dipped under the waves. He inched along the aircraft to the tail and pulled himself out of the water by grabbing the vertical stabiliser.
Putting my head down after looking around and resting with my head down, realising I might not make it. The sun was setting and it was red and I saw no one around. Did they hear my call? I don’t know. Resting and remaining as calm as I could, I thought of my kids, what we have been through in our lives. They are now married and [Son who bought the fuel] has a son and is father to two girls and a boy. My oldest son is expecting a girl in a few weeks. Will I ever see them again? What will they think of this, I thought. This stupid thing that I did. I’m at fault fore believing I could fix this and get home. I just wanted to get home.
Lifting my head and not wanting to see that I was still alone, I looked straight ahead and off the horizon, I could see a big US Coast Guard boat coming. I couldn’t believe it; they were coming.
He let go of the seat back and grabbed the horizontal stabiliser to pull himself out of the water, so he could wave at the Coast Guard. It took them some time, he said, as he was 40 miles off of the coast of Charlevoix and several miles south of the Beaver Islands. He’d been in the water an hour.
His Emergency Locator Transmitter had gone off when it got wet, broadcasting his location on the emergency frequencies. The Coast Guard had rushed to his location from both sides of the lake.
Leaning forward and standing on what was the only thing out of the water, I jumped to the hand that was extended and I was pulled aboard.
He says that as they turned the boat around, the aircraft flipped over until only the tip of the tail was sticking out.
If this feels a bit cinematic, that’s not a coincidence. He later told the local paper that he wrote out the first-person narrative while it was fresh in his mind, “in case it had any motion picture potential”.
That same paper reports that the aircraft was not insured and that the whole experience was so traumatic, the pilot doesn’t see himself piloting an airplane ever gain.
A representative from the U.S. Coast Guard stated that the amount of fuel in the aircraft was low enough that they were not concerned about it polluting the lake.
The NTSB report is quick to note that they did not travel to the scene of the crash.
The airplane was not recovered; therefore, the engine could not be examined, and the reason for the loss of engine power could not be determined. Additionally, based on the pilot’s flight, it’s likely the airplane was not airworthy before the pilot’s initial departure.
The FAA currently show multiple listings to do with this aircraft registration:
- June 26, 2021: Aircraft landed gear up at Brackett Field Airport (KPOC), La Verne, California.
- June 27, 2021: Aircraft veered off runway due to electrical issue and lost use of landing lights at Four Corners Regional Airport (KFMN), San Juan County, New Mexico.
- July 02, 2021: Aircraft landed hard and veered off runway at The O’Neill Municipal Airport (KONL), Holt County, Nebraska.
When asked for comment, the FAA would only say that they were investigating.