Antilles Air Boats operated a seaplane airline in the Caribbean from 1963 to 1981, founded by famed aviator Charles Blair and his movie star wife, Maureen O’Hara. Recently a historical website was launched at AntillesAirBoats.com to pay homage to everyone involved with the airline – as well as preserve photos, videos and stories. While this historical website was a group effort, it was spearheaded by Tom Anusewicz, who served as assistant director of maintenance for Antilles Air Boats from 1975 to 1980.
In contrast to the St. Croix / St. Thomas seaplane operation run present day by Seaborne Airlines using sea planes on pontoons, Antilles flew air boats on which the fuselage of the aircraft lands directly on the water.
One Antilles Air Boats pilot in the late seventies was Ed Hanley (father of Chris Hanley). Chris recalls happy childhood memories flying around the Caribbean with his father in the Grumman Goose when seats were open, often the only two people in the aircraft after dropping off the last passengers of the day.
After many years in the U.S. Air Force, Ed Hanley retired in 1977 after flying B-52 bombers and a multitude of other aircraft for the military. He and his family moved to St. Croix in 1978, where air boats landing in front of their beachfront condo piqued his curiosity. After getting proper certifications stateside, Hanley went to work piloting the air boats.
Anusewicz estimates on AntillesAirBoats.com that Antilles completed 40,000 flights for 277,000 passengers each year. According to Ed Hanley, one Antilles aircraft would often make 20 to 30 landings per day around the Caribbean, including St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and the British Virgin Islands. He piloted both the Grumman Goose G-21A (which carried 10 people) and the Grumman Mallard G-73 (15 people).
Four aircraft accidents in 1978 undermined the credibility of the Goose air boat. Most notably on September 2, 1978, Antilles Air Boats President Charles Blair lost his life on a crash near St. Thomas along with three others on-board. The airline ended service in 1981 and the aircraft were destroyed in Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Until just recently, Ed Hanley continued piloting a plane of his own for leisure, logging more than 12,000 total flights hours and 10,000 water landings. He fondly recalls landings in Tortola in shallow water of approximately 20 feet, where a multitude of sea life could be seen just under the aircraft, including fish and sometimes whales.