On the coast of northwestern Saudi Arabia sits the rotting carcass of a PBY-5A Catalina sea plane. While the photos are interesting, the story of how it got there is even moreso.
After WW2, surplus aircraft like the Catalina were plentiful. The gorgeous relics of the arsenal of democracy were being bought by adventurers. One such plane is the one you see above. This PBY-5A Catalina was bought by Thomas Kendall from the US Navy. Mr. Kendall converted the plane into a luxury flying yacht and set out on a round-the-world voyage with his wife, children, secretary and her son in the spring of 1960. A photographer from Life magazine also tagged along to document the voyage.
On March 22, 1960, they anchored the plane just off the shore of Saudi Arabia in the Strait of Tirana so they could get some sleep. They reportedly heard someone shouting, but ignored it. This would prove to be a mistake. The following day they came under attack by men with machine guns.
The children, Mr. Kendall and his secretary made it back to the plane. Mr. Kendall and his secretary were wounded while trying to make their escape. The got the old plane going, and moved all of about 800 meters when the plane hit a coral reef and ran aground. No less than 300 shots were fired at the aircraft, with some perforating the fuel tanks. They were stuck between a gulf and the Bedouins with machine guns sitting on the shore waiting for them.
They wound up surrendering to the Bedouins who thought the family on their journey were Israeli spies. The survivors were handed over to the Saudi army who interrogated them in Jeddah before the US Ambassador was able to intervene and negotiate their release.
So today this Catalina, with its two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp engines and retractable landing gear sits on the beach under the Arabian sun. These aircraft are becoming rare. They are thirsty and expensive to fly. Most of the surviving Catalinas today are used for firefighting or tourism.