Cool Seaplane Pilot Weather Tools

If you could stand on the east coast of the eastern most island in the Philippines and face the Pacific Ocean you would feel the warm moist trade winds blowing gently on your face. On a computer generated wind map the wind lines meander westward across the ocean, like millions of wildebeest migrating across the Serengeti, where they funnel into a natural barricade – the Philippine Islands.

Pacific Trade Winds-03

These are the north easterly trade winds that would, unaffected by any land mass or pressure systems, flow westward all year round. These winds are, however, affected by either the summer season heating of the Asiatic landmass or the winter season cooling of the China/Siberia landmass. During what Filipinos call the “Habagat” the trade winds are affected by the South West monsoon and associated warm moist air and during the “Amihan” the trade winds are affected by the North East monsoon and associated cool dry air. This really gets mixed up when either are affected by typhoons which develop from extreme low pressure systems associated with the warm moist air along the Intertropical Convergence Zone. Although Typhoons can happen in either season the typhoon season generally corresponds with the Habagat monsoon. Most typhoons, like bowling balls rolling down the ICZ bowling lane, move in the same direction as the Amihan monsoon from east to west. Confusing? In reality the seasonal changes are much simpler to understand and there are a number of apps that help out.

On Oct 24th somewhere between 4 pm and 5 pm the winds in Boracay switched from South West to North East. During the recent typhoon the winds had switched across the island several times but this time the locals knew it was here to stay. Following an ancient ritual that most likely started with local fishermen, the paragliding boats, bubble helmet dive rafts, dive bancas and sail boats moved to the protected lee-wind western side of the island while the kite surfers, mostly counter culture trustafarians, moved to the eastern side of the island to catch the onshore breezes. If you had been there the day before you would think the north and south poles had reversed.


It took another 3 days for the winds to pick up momentum to where we could recognize the brisk signature North East trade winds. The Amihan monsoon had arrived. How did they know to all at once and all in one day make the seasonal move? I am sure they all felt it in their bones but at the same time the switch was perfectly predicted on an app.


When my father flew in Northern Canada during the 1950’s they were lucky to have some of the world’s best navigational maps for their day. But these were often dead wrong like finding two rivers where the map says there was one. Weather reports, if they were able to get any, were wholly unreliable. Bush pilots learned to read the sky: Mare’s Tails, Sun Dogs, Mackerel Skies and Red Sky at Night, in conjunction with a barometer, told you more about what was coming than any government issued weather reports.

Sun Dogs in Manitoba

Sun Dogs in Manitoba

As seaplane pilots who’s flights often take us far from airports or flight service stations I believe we still need to be able to interpret the changing weather around us. I am from the old school so I learned to do all that but what about the new recruits raised on smart phones and apps? Luckily cell phone coverage is expanding rapidly so getting weather updates is easier. But with a busy schedule and while handling the seaplane on swells in open waters and on beaches with surging rollers we don’t often have time to check our smart phones. It’s quicker to look toward the sky, read the winds and check the trending barometer.

If you have to ask “How do you get the barometric pressure reading when you are out of touch of the airport?” then you are not a sailor or seaplane pilot. You simply set your altimeter to sea level before each takeoff and check to see which way the pressure is trending.

In Europe and North America the weather apps are amazing and concise showing weather conditions on moving maps direct from Doppler radar. Weather in real time. But I will show you what android apps we are using in the Philippines and what is available in many other counties.

NOAA  or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the good old USofA government helping us all out around the world. The best free app that gives NOAA weather and tides that I can find is Weather from NOAA free.  For an overview go to Satellites Color – Western Pacific. I don’t really use this one a lot but it is useful when typhoon watching.

Not to be confused with NOAA the Philippines government operates Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) which was set up to serve timely warnings about typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, flash floods and volcanic eruptions. For pilots NOAH is best for showing live views of areas of heavy rain and ongoing storms throughout most of the country using the Doppler radar stations in Aparri, Subic, Manila, Virac, and Cebu. When you can’t see over the horizon this is the next best thing.

Project NOAH

A great app more specific to seaplane pilots is one that shows and predicts the tides. My favorite is DGS Tides. which is only available as an android app. The best part is that it runs completely off-line and helps find the closest station using your devices GPS. It is simple to use and accurate.

dgstides_graph dgstides_map

Even more amazing is the apps that show and predict surface winds, waves and swell heights and direction. I have three that I use that are available either on your PC or through an android app. Windyty is hands down my favorite not just because it has so much to offer;

Windyty Wind

But because it shows the wind in a way that transcends science to become living art. Wind and or waves in action are fractal non-repetitive patterns at their most beautiful like large flocks of starlings soaring in flight or balls of herring darting in unison in the sea.

Windyty Map

A great feature is the ability to click on the exact spot you wish to see the actual wind and waves predictions and the ability to forecast for weeks in advance. I can predict if I have to land on the NW or SE side of Boracay Island simply by clicking on the Windyty map and selecting my date and time of arrival.

The PC version of Windyty is authentic but the app is offered by a third party. The app version is called Windity – No Oficial for the obvious reasons I doubt if it is sanctioned by the original author. But it still works if you can find it.  If you don’t want to use the app, however, the site works well in your smart phone browser.

A more official wind and wave projection app for kite surfers is called Wind Finder. It works fine but it does not give me the swells and I have to manually search for the locations I want to check out. That does not work if the name for the area I have is different for the name that their data base uses. Also I find the wind maps too crude and generic. The wind maps for Windyty are exact enough to be used without the text predictions. What you see is what you get.


Another web site that gives a very accurately depicted wind maps is called Westpacwx. Again I love the graphical depiction of the wind on this site. It is poetry in motion.


There is no android app for this PC version but then I mostly use the wind prediction sites for just that; predicting what the wind will be like the next afternoon or the next week. I can do this from home of the office. You can also click on the map to get specific details for each location which is a great feature.

Using the wind, wave and swell prediction abilities is a learning curve. You could not just look it up and know what the conditions will be like at each seaplane landing location. Wind, waves and swells are also affected by the local conditions; lee wind effect from mountains and large islands such as Mindoro Island has on the waters around Apo reef, the venturi effect on the wind between two islands such as between Luzon and Mindoro have on Puerto Galera or wind changes from localized thunderstorms in northern Palawan.

The Manila Harbour, for another example, is a wind tunnel. When the apps show the SW wind blowing from the ocean into the harbour at 8 kts you should know it will be 16 kts at the deepest end of the harbour. The harbour mouth creates a natural venturi effect and in the afternoon the heating over the city and the hills behind the city will create an anabatic inflow speeding up the natural occurring trade winds. This is a very local effect that the apps cannot predict but you, as a seaplane pilot, need to know. Any wind over 8 kts on a long fetch can create large difficult waves but 15 kt winds can create swells up to 2 meters high. Not safe for landing at any speed.

Throw in a typhoon and 18 kts and stronger winds can produce 3 meters swells that will break over the Manila seawall. At this point the harbour is not a safe harbour.

Manila South Harbour-55

Manila South Harbour during the SW monsoon.

Now that the winds have changed to the North East during the Amihan Monsoon we rarely get waves larger than 1-2 feet allowing us to once again operate safely into the Manila South Harbour.  Welcome home.

C208B EX Amphibian Seaplane

C208B EX Amphibian Seaplane

C208B EX Amphibian Seaplane landing in the Manila South Harbour Philippines.

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Vault Magazine: For the Modern Flaneur

If the picture of the back of your head in a major life style magazine can make you famous then I may be on the right track. Check it out. Here is the back of my head…

Vault Magazine sent a writer and photographer on a flight with me a few months back. The idea came from the Editor-in-Chief David Celdran who flew in the seaplane with me when I dropped him on the beach in front of the Shangri-la Hotel in Boracay – a flight covered in my No Farewell to Summer story.

His magazine, published by ASB-CBN, was doing a special issue on the romance of leisure. He thought, and I agree, the seaplane is a perfect tool for the true ecologically conscience and leisurely traveller. Adventure without the pain and effort. Sitting back with legs crossed watching the islands of Palawan slip effortlessly under you as you speed along. Taking the seaplane to Palawan is as carefree and romantic as taking a leisurely stroll along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris in the spring time.

I had hoped we could bring David’s writing/photography team along on a bright beautiful picture perfect day where the morning sun shines across the ancient cliffs of volcanic islands, born of fire and magma, being reshaped by tropical rains and reclaimed by flourishing coconut palms and flowering Frangipani. But that didn’t happen.

I had hoped that they may experience a stroll along a lonely beach leaving nothing but footprints in the sand. But that didn’t happen.

I had hoped to drop in on a gorgeous deserted tropical island where blue sky fuses to blue seas and tropical islands lie on the horizon like sleeping green iguanas in the simmering heat. But that didn’t happen.

I had hoped that they could lie on their back in the soft coral sand looking up at the sun through luminescent green coconut palm fronds and back-lit Bougainvillea. But that didn’t happen.

They had a deadline. The antithesis to the spirit of the Flâneur. So they joined me on a routine flight to Busuanga Bay Lodge in Northern Palawan on a cloudy rainy day.

In the end the story and images were more utilitarian and industrial and less bohemian and contemplative but in truth aviation is very technical. It takes more than a join-you-for-a-day photography team to capture the true romance of flying to islands in a seaplane. I have spent my life musing on the whimsical nature of exploring the world with seaplanes. I dream about blue lagoons, calms seas and flying to islands like a true Flâneur who has “no occupation in life but to chase along the highway of happiness.”  But like the writers and photographers with deadlines I have a job to do. Let me be your guide to discovering the world we inhabit.

To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define.

Source: Flâneur – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

You can buy a hard copy of VAULT at fine bookstores throughout the Philippines or a digital copy online through the Android or iTunes app Zinio.

Vault writer Inigo. S. Roces, Photographer Paul Del Rosario

Instead of just looking at the back of my head you can also take a peak inside my head by reading  my thoughts of life on the road, or in this case in the skies, in my book of poetry Woodsmoke & Perfume : Flying to Island Series by Captain John S Goulet

Buy your copy of Woodsmoke & Perfume today.

Woodsmoke & Perfume Poetry by John S Goulet

Poetry by John S Goulet

P.s., The Citizen Promaster EcoDrive watch in the pictures was just a dead weight to hold the pages of the magazine open. It is a titanium, crystal sapphire face, radio controlled, solar powered full feature E6B aviation calculator watch. It’s my favorite aviation watch. So what else does it do? It tells time.

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Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Lost at Sea

I recently had the sad task to fly low over the Philippine sea in an attempt to find 5 men in a small raft. A yacht had gone missing several weeks before in a typhoon. The official search had been called off but the family wanted to search several areas that had not been covered. We searched for 2 days but didn’t find anything except flotsam and garbage. I thought I would take the opportunity to re-post this blog I wrote on the first news of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 which has never been found. The same principles apply. I can’t help but think there are 5 men in a raft floating somewhere in a large and lonely sea just like there are pieces of Flt 370 still out there somewhere. Here is the re-posted blog from last year.

An entire airliner lost at sea? The Malaysia Airlines Boeing B777 is a big aircraft.

The Gulf of Thailand expanding into the South China Sea, however, is much bigger. Success in finding this aircraft will be a massive exercise in coordination and cooperation. I have been directly involved in many missing aircraft searches, two specifically that were airliners and two helicopters at sea, and so far I have not seen anything in the news reports that give the families of the passengers much hope. The ocean is vast but there are ways to narrow down the possible search zone and pinpoint the crash location.


South East Asian Air Traffic Routes

Even when using modern technology the principles of narrowing the field and conducting a meaningful search are the same:

  1. Determining the most likely search area (circle of probability) using basic airmanship, physics and logic.
    • Route
    • Speed
    • Altitude
    • Time of last known radio transmission
    • Last reported position or fix
    • If May-Day call – resulting glide path
    • If no May-Day call – resulting rapid decent cone
    • Wind, weather and sea state
  1. Location references
    • ATC radar reading directly from aircraft transponder signals (such as FlightRadar24 uses)
    • Radar Reading from emergency transponder 7700 code selected by the pilots
    • GPS aided ADS-B reading from transponder – works passively and is very exact
    • GPS satellite flight following systems – works passively and is very accurate
    • COSPAS-SARSAT reading from 406 MHz emergency locator signals (EPIRB and ELT) triggered by pilots during an emergency or on impact (deceleration meter)
  1. Choose the right search vessels or aircraft
    • Helicopters can search lower and slower to easier spot a debris field
    • Aircraft must have the range and the ability to fly low and slow
    • Aircraft must have large windows where spotters can easily look down and outward
    • Vessels must have the ability to have spotters get low to the water to pick up debris
  1. Once the search vessels are in the vicinity
    • Trained spotters and pilots who know how to spot useful debris fields
    • Forward looking infrared cameras (FLIR) for night or low visibility searches
    • GPS self reading data buoys dropped in known location of crash to determine ocean currents and likely drift of any survivors.
    • Deepwater Sonar Locator triggered by submersion in water and sends out a sonar pint that specialized equipment uses to locate a submerged aircraft and the flight data recorder (the black box)

If the missing aircraft was equipped with all or most of the above then we would not be getting such basic reports such as I saw this morning. If the vessels and or aircraft had been properly selected and equipped then we might already have had some results. The biggest factor to success is to keep the search concepts simple. The most imminent danger to an aircraft will bring it down immediately. In the order of most likely: flying into a severe thunderstorm, electrical fire on the flight deck, sudden decompression in the flight deck, catastrophic structural failure or air-to-air collision. Thus that is where you start your search. Right where it disappeared or lost communications. If the aircraft crew simply lost communications then it is pointless trying to project where they would run out of fuel. It is point less trying to chase “leads” of fragmented or unsubstantiated radio calls or radar returns (blips). Deal with those later as more concrete evidence comes in. For the now search the immediate cone of rapid response.

Also don’t expect any survivors. Don’t even expect to find recoverable bodies. The impact an aircraft makes during a high speed uncontrolled descent after a catastrophic failure will destroy the aircraft and everybody on it beyond imagination. The human bodes will simply explode and virtually disappear. In the two airliner impact sites I found, one from an air-to-air collision and the other from structural failure after flying into a severe thunderstorm, there were no recoverable bodies.

We found everything from crumpled airliner seats, twisted pieces of aluminum, tattered torn suitcases, crushed briefcases and fully intact wallets and passports – passports are amazingly impact proof – but no bodies. After finding one such downed airliner the Chairman of our air service (not the airline that crashed) called and asked that I retrieve his nieces body so they could wash her and give her a proper burial. She had been coming to visit her favorite uncle. All we eventually found was small blue and blood-soaked sweater that the family identified as hers.

  1. Keep it Simple
    • Start the search immediately in the vicinity of the last transmission
    • Do not chase ghost or fragmented signals
    • Search low as possible – 1000 to 500 feet above sea level
    • Use expanding down current grid boxes is current known or identified
    • Use expanding fixed position grin boxes if current unknown or unidentified
    • Use aircraft with large windows and trained or well briefed spotters
    • Look for debris with color – usually yellow, orange or red. The ocean has no color and therefore all color is man-made.
    • Ignore white or brown unless the shape has been identified as significant.

CBC reported that Vietnamese air force jets pilots spotted two large oil slicks offshore. In my experience of flying over the world’s oceans finding an oil slick means next to nothing for several reasons:

  • Oil tankers, although they are not supposed to, often clean their tanks at sea.
  • Fishing ships and freighters often dump used engine oil overboard after maintenance.
  • Most eye witnesses can’t tell the difference between different types of oil or oil product spills especially at altitude.

Turbine engine oil, refined or unrefined crude, diesel, gasoline and especially JetA1 fuel all have different properties and react and show differently when disbursed on the surface of water.

For a simple example:

  • Unrefined crude will clump on fresh water and foam quickly on seawater. turning a light brown. It is easy to spot at altitude but easy to miss in that it doesn’t always look like what we expect oil to look like.
  • Processed oil is darker and will likely spread uniformly making it hard to spot.
  • Turbine engine oil, what would come from a modern aircraft, is clean, will spread very quickly and reflects a light sheen of different muted rainbow colors.
  • Jet fuel is the toughest to spot from altitude once it has had time to spread. It is clear and light and very quick to disburse. It will produce a sheen that might reflect different colors depending on the light. Once it spreads the rainbow like sheen will fade. It evaporates slowly compared to gasoline, but much quicker than crude or refined oil.

Image of Reported Oil Slick This is an image of a crude oil spill. Someone should investigate how it got there but it has nothing to do with missing aircraft.

Many years ago a Boeing 727 went off the radar in Nigeria and disappeared over a lagoon surrounded by a low land forest. I wasn’t directly involved in the search but I followed it closely because I flew right past the most likely search area every day. I knew that, by the fact that the aircraft disappeared so quickly, if it hit dry land we would see rising smoke on the horizon and find it that way. If it hit water we would find an oil/fuel slick.

On the third day the search team had not found the aircraft. No smoke and no oil slick. Over 20 aircraft had been involved including 5 helicopters. While flying past the search area each day I had talked to the search pilots but no one found a clue that would identify or locate the crash site.

I convinced my Managing Director to let me have one hour. The client wouldn’t allow our Cessna Caravan Seaplane to be part of the search but unofficially we could use the aircraft on down time or weekends. I took the opportunity to fly out to the search area which I redefined based on the following criteria:

  1. Known route and direction
  2. Last known radio call
  3. Likely glide or rapid descent cone.  Lack of a proper emergency radio transmission meant that they went down quickly.
  4. Searching only waterways (no fire meant they hit the water or swamp)

It only took me 20 minutes to find the crash site in the middle of the search zone that had been crisscrossed by many aircraft multiple times over the previous 2 days. The difference was that I knew what to look for and how to identify the evidence. Even after two full days the jet fuel, although very light and faint, was still evident in the lagoon waters.  As the first responder for oil leaks, carrying out low level pipeline patrols, I had taught myself to see the signs.

Helicopter pilots doing pipeline patrols had a very small success rate for finding an oil spill within the first day of the reported pressure drop. Anyone could find a large leak after a few days but I figured out how to spot a leak immediately by recognizing the signs. Our “leak repair” company was paid more the quicker we were on site and the quicker we patched the leak. Learning to find pipeline leaks before anyone else helped me when searching for downed aircraft in the water.

After circling at about 500 feet I then needed to verify the crash site by finding debris. I went down to 25 feet above the water and could immediately see what I could not see from 500 feet: seat cushions and bits of paper and plastic. Another environmental clue, however, was the abnormal number of villagers in their tree trunk canoes just paddling in circles? That was the same for finding a pipeline leak. The villagers often found the leak first and would circle the site to scoop up the free fuel. (Yes crude burns.)

I found out later that the local villagers were looking for suitcases and other personal items as they came to the surface from the submerged aircraft debris. I flew back to base and phoned in my findings. Bristow Helicopters dispatched a helicopter and the pilot confirmed finding entire seats and aircraft parts embedded in the shallow mud bottom lagoon.

The Vietnamese air force pilots searching for the downed Malaysian Airlines B777 were reportedly looking down from 20,000 or at best 10,000 feet. There is no way to positively identify an open ocean crash site from that altitude. Next time you are in the city look down a long street. An average block is 600-900 ft long. Try to identify a person at the end of the block. Now try identifying anyone from 10 blocks or 20 blocks away. It’s just not possible.

The Reuters report also said many search vessels were being dispatched to join the search. Searching from a boat, however, is equally difficult for the opposite reason. The observation decks are too low to the water. If the seas are rough often the spotters will not be able to see down in the troughs thus effectively cutting their spotting time down to half.

After a helicopter disappear on the night flight from a helideck 85 miles offshore the Chevron called out all the contracted supply vessels to join the search. Of the 20 plus boats involved in the search most found nothing. One, and I attribute this to the diligence of the crew, found about 20% of the debris. During aerial searches between 1000 and 200 feet above sea level I found the rest of the significant debris including the key components that enabled the NTSB to determine the cause of the crash.

After the helicopter was reported missing the Search and Rescue (SAR) coordinators, who had no ocean SAR experience, dispatched several twin turbine long range aircraft at first light. Air traffic control only allowed them to descend to 6000 ft. At that altitude they found nothing. Because one of the suspected reasons a helicopter goes down might be “fuel contamination” the drill rig had shut down their on-board jet fuel supply. Thus we could not use the helicopters for any meaningful SAR as their range was limited and their loiter time on site was only 20 minutes.

This time I convinced my Operations Manager to let me have a go with or without approval of the client using our Cessna Caravan amphib. After all it was our pilots who might still be out there floating around. I fueled the aircraft and set out using the endurance power setting to get the most range.

Sedco-Energy Drill Rig

Deepwater Offshore Nigeria

Once on site I radioed the helicopter pilot who had been onsite for 20 minutes and was now heading back to base. He had followed the known departure route and at the most likely location of where the pilot had made their last garbled transmission he found a small but steady oil leak coming from deep under the surface and bubbling up a few drops at a time. The pilot was convinced that was the crash site.


Once overhead and when the helicopter headed back to base for fuel I descended to 1100 feet AMSL (above mean sea level) to have a good look at the oil slick created by the surfacing oil. I was not convinced it was our downed helicopter. Although it had the consistency of turbine oil, light and quickly disbursed, it was ascending too perfectly steady, several drops at time.

B412 Oil Slick

I believed that if the helicopter had sunk in this spot the oil evidence would not be so perfectly regulated. Leaking engine or transmission oil would most likely create a mess that would have dispersed quickly over night leaving little for us to find 12 hours later. Because it was located perfectly on the departure route and because I could not imagine what else could create such a neat oil leak I did not rule it out. I called in the location and asked for a search boat to scoop up the water to determine, in the oil company’s laboratory, what kind of oil it was. If it was refined turbine oil then we would know for sure. In the end the boat could never get a significant sample so we never found out.

The helicopter pilot that had already been on site found nothing before running low on fuel and headed back to base along the route the missing pilot would have taken.  It was a bright clear day with a light but brisk breeze streaking the water. I then decided to start searching downstream instead of downwind, determined by watching a supply ship drift against the wind while being pushed by an east bound ocean current. I then went into classic search mode:

  1. Using the expanding downwind search boxes (grids) to save time and fuel
  2. Low  speeds  – to let the spotters (or pilot) have a chance to process information – when you see something you need time to realize what you are looking at.
  3. Low altitudes – to have a good vista while being close enough to identify debris with the naked eye. Binoculars are often useless in the turbulent low level air. I learned, from searching for missing barges and while whale spotting that 1100 feet AMSL works best for seeing objects along the horizon. 500 to 25 feet AMSL, however, works best for locating and identifying crash debris. You have to be able to identify the debris because you don’t want to be dispatching search boats to pick up coconuts which are about the size of a human head or Styrofoam which can be mistaken for anything. There is a lot of garbage drifting around the ocean.

Bell 412 Helicopter

With the helicopters having cleared the area I descended to 500 ft following the current. I immediately discovered, on the first downstream search box, helicopter crash debris. On each discovery I called in the GPS coordinates and the search vessels steamed to the location. Even with the coordinates to guide them the crew, from such a low deck level, had a difficult time spotting the debris I could see so easily from 500 ft. I had to circle and circle while giving detailed descriptions of where the debris was in relation to where they were looking. They could be right over the debris and still not see it.

With perseverance we finally managed to retrieve almost everything I spotted. In three days of searching I was the only person to spot any of the helicopter wreckage from above. The inexperienced spotters tired quickly and found nothing of significance. I even had to change out spotters everyday because the work was so exhausting. I even spotted a floating clip board with a piece of paper still attached and flowing in the current. Altogether we found 2 doors, a piece of the tail rotor, un-deployed life vests, one un-deployed life raft and one passenger floating in a deployed life vest with a broken neck. It wasn’t until the forth night a surface vessel found one human body and a second door while searching with a night light. We never found the fuselage, the crew or the second passenger.

I did, however, find the crash site and enough wreckage for the NTSB to determine the cause of the accident. I am not a professional SAR coordinator but I attributed that particular accomplishment to the specific skills learned from carrying out numerous aerial searches over my years of flying.

My personal and professional experience tells me that finding the missing Malaysian Airlines B777 will be nearly impossible. I am not saying impossible because if the aircraft had any one of the satellite (GPS) reporting systems working then they will get to within a reasonable vicinity of the crash site. Once in the vicinity the best bet would be to use boat launched helicopters (shore launched helicopters would not have the range to reach the crash site) to cover the largest area in the shortest time. With experienced search coordinators making the best use of the resources, and lots of luck, they just might be able to find something. Pieces of an airplane can tell a story.

The irony is, however, that someone somewhere will eventually find a piece of this airplane. Eight months or eight years or eighty later a wing tip or aileron or part of the composite (float-able) fuselage will float to shore where someone will find it.  Mark my words. Then the conspiricy theorists will come online again and decide that the airliner must have flown on and on mysteriously until it crashed in some remote islands or open seas. In truth the ocean is full of floating debris from lost airliners or ships and where the winds and currents will take them no one will be able to determine. I am sure there is a piece of Amelia Earhart’s aircraft still circling the ocean somewhere.

A small group of wreckage hunters purports to have found a bit of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra aircraft. It’s a good story, but critics of the find are more vocal than ever

Has Amelia Earhart’s plane finally been found? Not so fast | US news | The Guardian
Editor’s Note: It is now early in the morning in Asia. I originally wrote that the airliner disappeared over the Gulf of Thailand according to the aircraft’s route shown on FlightRadar24. The screenshot shows that the route skirts the inside edge between the two bodies of water.  Apparently, however, the authorities decided the aircraft is in the South China Seas. Either way it is still missing.

Related Pilot Blog Post
117 Killed in Nigerian Plane Crash Oct 22nd, 2005
Storyline- Oct 23rd, 2005

Bellview Airlines Crash

Bellview plane crash site

Bellview Airlines Crash: I was awoken at 7:00 on Sunday morning by the Nigerian Chairman of Pan African Airlines asking me to help look for his missing niece. I had no idea of what he was asking, but soon found out that a Bellview Airlines Boeing 737-200, ironically named “HOPE”, had gone missing after the pilot broadcast a distress call at 20:45 Saturday night.

Continue Reading….

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Beaches of Sadness and Joy

The Sadness of Beaches –

Early in the morning, with the rising sun still climbing up from behind the eastern mountain ridge, I walked along a beach in the province of Ilocos Sur on the north-western corner of Luzon Island in the Philippines. The beach stretches along the far end of a receding bay facing westward toward the South China Sea. I had flown a client from Manila so he could celebrate his birthday at his birth place, Vigan City. We had departed the Manila airport too late to return VFR that same night so we needed to spend the night. He put us up at a the Cabugao Beach Resort an hour drive up the coast from the airport.

When we drove into the resort the night before I couldn’t see but I could hear the swells breaking and crashing on the beach. The nest morning, because the tide was high, the breaking swell was gentle and quiet. It is this persistent pounding and mixing of the waves hitting the far end of the bay that made the beach, and the bay for that matter, in the first place. Only a deep barely discernible boom, like distant rolling thunder, coming from the coastline and echoing across the bay broke the silence. The view over the beach and the bay was peaceful but still I felt a wave of sadness washing over me which I could not readily explain.

I ordered coffee from one of the smiling Filipino girls and sat out on a terrace overlooking the sea. The client joined me briefly. He was grinning widely as only a proud father could. “See the beach over on this side?” He pointed toward the south end of the bay. This is my property – I will build my “Executive Club” retreat here. He plans to fly executives from Manila to this remote province’s beach front for an all-encompassing corporate retreat. But then he asked the unanswerable questions: Isn’t this beach beautiful? Isn’t this place amazing?

One of my most disturbing personal traits is that I cannot lie to a direct question. If my often blunt and to-the-point answer will disturb the karma of the moment, however, I can choose to grin and nod or just to redirect the question. This place is his home. This is where he grew up. I just flew him, and his family, here from the crowded, polluted, traffic grid-locked streets of Manila and he was so excited to be home to the rural and romantic setting of his upbringing how could I burst that bubble?

I tried to see what he sees, but instead I saw Jolly-Bee fast food wrappers, faded juice boxes and tattered soiled diapers littering a dirty grey beach. The beach was covered end to end with washed up seaweed and garbage and patrolled by packs of mongrel dogs sniffing their way through the more organic bits of garbage. I didn’t see the potential. I didn’t see the ….. fine white sand beach along a majestic cove advertised on the resort’s website.

The day before after landing at the airport our host had decided it best to visit the historic city center of Vigan before heading north to the beach resort where we would spend the night. I was thrilled because all too often, as pilots, we don’t get to explore the cities attached to the airports we visit. I had heard a lot about this old Spanish town and wondered what the fuss was all about.

Our first stop in the city center was to visit St Paul’s Cathedral, or the Cathedral of Vigan, for Friday mass which was just starting as we arrived. I walked around and took pictures as the mass murmured on in the background. The most amazing fact is that the original chapel on this site was built in 1574 – 202 years before American Independence. The first church, built in 1641, was damaged by earthquakes in 1619 and 1627 and a third church was burned in 1739. The existing structure was constructed in 1790 in the earthquake baroque style and since that time has survived hundreds of typhoons – the most recent being Lando in Oct 2015, and tens of devastating earthquakes – the most recent taking place in Nov 2013. (Why don’t they name major earthquakes like “Earthquake Harry” for example?)

A massive earthquake and powerful typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) successively struck central Philippines in October and early November 2013, causing catastrophic destruction and human loss.

Source: UNESCO World Heritage Centre – Heritage protection efforts underway after natural disasters in Philippines

After leaving the church and plaza we wandered down the Calle Crisologo main street of the historical city.


Vigan is the most intact example in Asia of a planned Spanish colonial town, established in the 16th century. Its architecture reflects the coming together of cultural elements from elsewhere in the Philippines and from China with those of Europe and Mexico to create a unique culture and townscape without parallels anywhere in East and South-East Asia.

Source: Historic Town of Vigan – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

The shops were inter-disbursed with touristy souvenir items, t-shirts with I “heart” Vigan and local consumable goods of which the most common was strings of dried garlic. To preserve the historic feel of the old Spanish town there were no cars allowed and instead only the local horse-drawn carts called Kalesas. With me being allergic to horses I immediately developed an annoying sniffle and itchy red eyes. Other than that I was fine but considering my allergies I did not take the opportunity to “go for a ride.”

After our tour of the old city our client treated “the pilots” to dinner in the heart of the historic Spanish town of Vigan City.

For dinner we had what our host called “local delicacies” at the Cafe Leona on the main street of the historic city center Calle Crisologo. To put a modern face to the local delicacies, in case his two western guests could not stomach the originals, our host ordered pizza made from the local pork sausages and deep-fried pork belly.

To show us what the delicacies looked like he also ordered the originals in a dish I think was called Bagnet Sisig. I tried both but glad I had the pizza version. I followed my meal up with a mango shake.

After dinner we walked down the street where he showed us a plaque, endorsed by the UNESCO World Heritage foundation, proving that his family had built and owned property here for hundreds of years. His family’s roots are deep.

All in all I enjoyed our visit to the historic center of Vigan City but I am not sure how I could recommend anyone visiting here. The city is over 400 kilometers and a 12 hour drive away from Manila, the most common gateway in to the Philippines. Flying is not normally an option because the local airport is not serviced by airlines although it is a great little airport for charters. When anyone suggests driving I cringe. The usual line of encouragement is that “it’s a great scenic drive.” Well maybe for short bursts. But otherwise the route winds through hours of boring little villages and agonizing traffic jams caused by local Jeepneys and under-powered motorcycles pushing exposed sidecars (tricycles) stopping in the middle of the road to pickup passenger with no regard to the following traffic.

Despite being away from the big city traffic and pollution the entire trip is polluted by trucks and buses blowing black diesel exhaust and over-stressed and under-powered 2-stroke motorcycles blowing sticky oil burning exhaust choking the entire journey. I had to endure the one hour drive from Vigan airport up the coast to Cabugao and I had a headache from the pollution and the continuous starts and stops to avoid the local traffic. The worst part is that once the driver had made many efforts to pass the agonizingly slow buses and sidecar motorcycles I could hardly ask him to stop so I could take a picture of the country side. Every stop would add 20 minutes to are already long drive. There is no point of a scenic drive if you can’t stop to enjoy the view.

This problem, however, is easily solved by flying to Vigan in the Cessna Grand Caravan. For every minivan of 9 passengers driving along for 12 hours on a bumpy crowded road spewing 12 hours of CO2 and pollution you can spend 1:20 mins of time in the air with negligible pollution output and minimum CO2 emissions. Plus you get a comfortable ride with scenic views all around. You still can’t stop to snap a picture but you don’t need to because everyone has a window to shoot from. My host was on the right track by chartering us for all this executive transfers.

My other dilemma was in trying to see the vision my host saw in developing the tourist potential of the area. His mantra was <em>It’s virgin territory; there are no international quality tourist facilities we can be the first. What I see, however, is an area of over population highly dependent on low-income producing agriculture for their survival. The more people the more food required and the more land needed to produce enough food to survive. In order to find more land the farmers need to move away from the soil rich bottom land (along river banks and valleys) to higher up the hills and mountains. In order for the hills to be fertile enough to sustain crops they would have to be covered in trees whose roots will hold the soil during heavy rains. The problem with trees, however, is that they are in the way of farmers. Plus with higher population down in the valley they need more wood for housing which entices the farmers to cut down the trees that are in their way to sell for profits. Then, without the trees roots to hold the soil, heavy rains especially during typhoons wash the soil down the hills into the rivers and out to sea. The hills quickly become infertile and can no longer sustain the crops. The farmer then moves on, cuts down more trees and denudes more hills creating more erosion and mud slides knocking down the wooded huts built of the former trees down in the valley. The cycle continues and eventually we end up with an island like Madagascar where the natives have cut down 90% of their forests leaving only a tiny fraction of the land arable. If modern times had not intervened Madagascar would have ended up like Easter Island and locals would have become extinct.

So much of the Philippines is going in that direction. As I flew up to Vigan over the vast areas flooded by Typhoon Lando just a week before I could see the devastation. Large areas flooded by brown soil laden water washed down from the hills and rivers into the valleys and flood plains.

Eventually the nutrient rich soil washes out to sea to be lost to the farmers and to suffocate the near shore coral reefs. The floodplains will gain enriched soil for when the floods subside but at what cost? As I flew down the coast I could also see the enormous body of silt laden fresh water hugging and snaking down the coast. Coastal reefs and salt water fish will be devastated creating pressure on the local fishermen. The thunder like booming I heard at breakfast was the sound of desperate local fishermen dynamiting the reefs trying to catch the few remaining fish and creating more environmental damage. The worse the damage the less likely the area will ever be developed for tourism. But is it too late?

The Joy of Beaches –

To be fair to my host and to Cabugao Beach resort ….a fine white sand beach along a majestic cove…. the plastic bags, diapers and other flotsam I witnessed washed up on the shore had come from the effects of the typhoon and the rain waters flushing out the rivers. The garbage floats out to sea only to be pushed back in again by the winds and currents. The grey of the beach is created by the silt washed down from the hills mixing with the natural sand created by the ocean waves pounding on the beach. Thus the pictures on the resort’s website are not necessarily photo-shopped although I am sure they have seen better days.

The only hope this area has both economically and environmentally is tourism and the higher end the tourist the larger the impact. With the economic pressure of tourists that expect pristine virgin rice fields and clean white beaches the more incentive for the locals to clean up their roads, rivers and beaches. When tourists begin to complain about the fish dynamiting and when more fishermen can afford to feed their families by working in tourism, taking tourists snorkeling out to the reefs for example, then the less pressure to dynamite the last remaining reefs for survival. I know this sounds simple-minded but tourism is a proven sustainable means for reviving rural and island economies.

Before all that, however, you need a quick, clean, cheap, comfortable and environmentally friendly means of getting the tourist to these destinations. That is where the air-conditioned, whisper quiet, fast and economical Cessna Caravan C208B EX amphibian seaplane comes in – so you can experience the joy of beaches.

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50 Ways I Can’t Kill My Mother

I’ve got this nagging feeling that my mother will outlive me. That is not supposed to happen but genetic inheritance builds some people tougher than others. So when Burning Bright Productions, a TV video production company, contacted me saying they wanted to film an episode in the Philippines for a show called 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy I felt a connection. I am pretty sure nothing can kill my mom before her time so what do they know that I don’t?

“Mammy” Nancy in a dream sequence

Air Juan camera chase plane

Louise McGregor, the Assistant Producer for Burning Bright Productions, assured me the show was not nearly as sinister as the title. The basic premise is that Baz Ashmawy, Irish radio and television personality specializing in travel adventure shows, decides to bring his mom (or “mammy” in Irish) along to share his adventures and well… make a TV show about it. The title comes about from an idiom we have all heard when we talk someone into doing something (usually something stupid) they are not comfortable with – “Are you trying to kill me!”

In this case Baz’s mother is a 70 plus year old stay-at-home-and-bakes-the-best-fruit-pies kind of mother. Watching Baz sweet talk, and sometimes down right trick her, into doing things she is “not-comfortable-with” is touching and hilarious at the same time. The show works so wonderfully well because of the suspense and tension built up when they don’t tell Baz’s Mammy, Nancy, what she will be doing in advance. It’s always a surprise. Barry Egan, the Director, explains that it works on two levels because for one; she has less time to fret and get cold feet and two; they can capture her genuine and unaffected response.

I know the routine because I have been sweet talking my wife into a host of memorable adventures for the past 40 years: flying through blizzards across the Canadian prairies, diving underwater into limestone caverns of the Yasawa Islands in Fiji, kayak surfing offshore of Outrigger reef, on a break called “Pops”, in Hawaii during a red flag surf day, bottom fishing for halibut from a single engine seaplane miles offshore of Nootka Sound on the BC coast, and helicopter flying, with the doors off, over hundreds of alligators in the Florida Everglades just to name a few.

Air Juan seaplane base in Manila South Harbour

The first day of filming wasn’t a good start because a nasty storm had just swung past leaving us with rain and large swells in the Manila South Harbour. So when I cancelled the day’s flight they had not yet told Mama the plans. The crew took advantage of the “lost” day by letting Nancy do something she wanted to do – visit a Filipino friend. I wasn’t very optimistic that the next day’s weather would be any better but we agreed to set up the camera and microphone locations on the airplane including a couple of GoPros on the dashboard.

Burning Bright Film Crew preparing equipment

When the filming crew showed up I asked, “Where’s the rest?” I was accustom to American style productions with 30 or more technicians. This film crew, consisting of one cameraman, one cameraman assistant and one sound recordist, is more like Tillie The Little Engine That Could locomotive with their determination and optimism.

John S Goulet

50 Way to Kill Your Mammy Film crew setting GoPros

Overnight the winds died and the next morning the sky was clear.

John S Goulet

Air Juan Seaplane Base Manila

I only saw this after Sky 1 TV released the full video but when Baz led Nancy down to the jetty her first reaction to flying on a seaplane was rather subdued. She reacted without fear and instead seemed to look forward to this new adventure. “I’ve never been on a seaplane.”

My usual answer to that is “That’s OK, neither have I.”

Herein lies the dilemma. I always do everything in my power to make people feel safe when they fly with me. No steep turns – no low flying – no sudden descents – avoid rain and turbulence. What could Mamma possibly be scared of? Of course she wouldn’t, beforehand, know that. If she was going to think the worst then this would be the time to do so.

From what I understood, however, the premise of the show, and what makes it work on an emotional level, is that Mammy is supposed to be scared. She is supposed to resist Baz’s attempts to get her to do something new and daring and scary. And “being afraid” is her most endearing character trait. The hovering “no skateboard for you young man” because “you’ll skin your knees” kind of mother. The “wear your mittens” because “you’ll freeze your fingers” worry-to-much about everything kind of mother.

To make the show work, however, Baz also knows when to wind her up. Again I really connected with how he deals with his mother because I do the same with my mom. Oh how I love to wind her up just like my son seems to like winding up his mother. The tension mounts when she begins to clue in with what is about to happen and when Baz begins to reel her in.

John S Goulet

A perfect day for flying and filming with dramatic cloud buildups around Mindoro and Busuanga Islands

When she approached the seaplane, however, her only concern was whether she could climb up the floatplane steps into the cabin. Even when we told her she would be taking the front seat she didn’t blink an eye. In trying to get her going Baz asked her if she worried about flying with a typhoon close by and she answered: “I have a very good pilot why would I be worried?”

Thanks Nancy. Got to love that gal!

John S Goulet

Baz and Nancy Ashmawy on board Air Juan Seaplane to Coron

To shoot the air-to-air scenes we flew two planes. I flew Nancy and Baz, with the GoPros in my face, and chatted with Nancy on the headsets. She was a perfect passenger. Baz tried everything to get her to “confess” being scared but in fact she was totally relaxed. I even gave her some flying lessons and let her fly some descents, climbs and turns. She did great. In the TV video I found this part hilarious because of the way they filmed and edited the scenes. As reality TV likes to do the editors added drama where there was none, but they did it in a tongue-in-cheek way that came off as more funny than dramatic.

John S Goulet

Cessna C208B EX Caravan amphibian seaplane

John S Goulet

Cessna C208B EX Caravan amphibian seaplane

John S Goulet

Nancy Ashmawy watching the camera chase plane over Busuanga

As we approached Coron Island the sky cover was broken with mixed cloud and sunshine. I could see that the water was calm. A perfect day for a seaplane landing near the Twin Lagoons.  We flew around the island twice to let the chase plane film us skirting the edges of the island. At one point I flew past the cliffs of the highest peak by only a few hundred meters and Nancy did not flinch. Ian, the backseat co-pilot, encouraged Nancy to help out the Captain and do her co-pilot duties by reading the Before Landing Checklist – a task she completed perfectly.

John S Goulet

Coron Island seen from over Busuanga Island Philippines. Coron Town is in the foreground,

John S Goulet

Coron Island Calamian Northern Palawan Philippines

Twin Lagoons of Coron Island Philippines

John S Goulet

Twin Lagoons of Coron Island Philippines where we dropped off “50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy” crew

John S Goulet

Air Juan C208B EX amphibian seaplane working with 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy production crew

John S Goulet

We dropped off Baz and Nancy near the Twin Lagoons of Coron where they transferred to a bamboo raft for the last part of their journey around the Philippines

John S Goulet

The Banca – your normal means of transportation to the Twin Lagoons from Coron Town.

John S Goulet

“50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy” was filmed inside the Twin Lagoons of Coron Island

“50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy” was filmed inside the Twin Lagoons of Coron Island

Go where Mammy went in Coron. She wasn’t afraid.

I was wondering how Baz would handle the fact that Nancy wasn’t scared or even the slightest bit nervous about flying up front with me in the seaplane to such a remote and unique sea landing in the Philippines. Would that mess up their basic premise of the show? After watching Season Two – Episode One, however, I can safely say that the energy that makes the show work is not that Baz is trying to find a way to scare the wits out of this mother but the fact that Baz gets to find out as much about his mother, throughout the filming, as we do. This is not your average scripted reality TV show. There is no script. Baz not knowing 100% how his mother will react creates a tension and pushes us to the limits of our how-he-plans-to-deal-with-his-mother’s-fear-factor comfort zone. Yes you read that right. Our comfort zones. And he does it superbly.

I believe this is true about any “unscripted” relationship, whether it is between mother and son, brother and sister or husband and wife. Travelling together and pushing your limits and encouraging your partner to push their limits not only tests your meddle but helps each other to fully explore each other’s true self. As a result we not only learn more about each other’s tolerances and abilities but we also learn about when we need to reach out and support each other. That is the most endearing formula of this show; Baz’s ability to reach out and hold his mom’s hand when she is not fully in her comfort zone.

50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy Video. The entire show is worth watching but if you want to skip to the seaplane part go to minute 34.

50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy courtesy of

“That is the most real, authentic, hysterical laugh of my entire life…” Rocket

If the above link does not work try 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy courtesy of Password “50waysphili”

John S Goulet

Barry Egan, Louise McGregor, Captain John Goulet, Nancy Ashmawy and Baz Ashmawy

John S Goulet

Barry Egan, Louise McGregor, Captain John Goulet, Nancy Ashmawy and Baz Ashmawy

50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy is a collaboration between Brown Bread Film and Burning Bright Productions for Sky 1 TV in the UK.

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