When Genesah Duffy, chief pilot and senior director of flight operations for Icon Aircraft, took off for a return-to-service shakedown flight in one of the company’s A5 amphibians, she wasn’t expecting it to turn into an air-sea-rescue mission. With the little two-place seaplane just out of a 100-hour inspection, Duffy took off from the company’s owner-training and sales center at Peter O. Knight Airport (KTPF) in Tampa, Florida, on Monday morning (Nov. 15). She heard a Mooney pilot announce on the Unicom frequency that he was inbound for the airport. “It didn’t sound like anything was wrong,” she told AVweb in a telephone interview. “There was no distress call.”
But after she completed a water landing for a routine bilge-pump check a few miles south of the airport, she picked up a radio call from another aircraft. “Usually, I can’t get reception from the surface,” she said, “but I heard someone on the frequency saying the Mooney had gone into the water.” So, she took off and flew toward where she estimated the aircraft might be. “The water is pretty shallow there, and I could see the outline of the airplane; completely submerged.” The Mooney was later reported to be on a flight from Lakeland Linder International Airport when it developed an engine problem.
Flying at around 200 feet, Duffy announced her position on the radio and said she could see one person in a yellow life jacket. Before landing, she made one circle of the area to assure herself she wouldn’t hit anyone in the water. She said the winds were gusting at about 15 knots and the surface looked choppy, but when she touched down, it wasn’t as bad as it looked, and she was able to taxi over to where the aircraft had sunk. That was when she saw another man without a life jacket struggling in the water. Even though the occupant in the life jacket was drifting from the site, she focused on the man without the flotation device, who turned out to be the pilot-owner of the Mooney.
“I taxied over and he grabbed the tail and, even though he was already tiring, he pulled himself along the left side of the airplane.” Duffy helped him put on one of the life jackets on board the A5 and pulled the inflation handle. They maneuvered him around to the passenger side and got him in the airplane. “This was …a full-grown man,” she said. “Helping him in took some effort.”
He told her he had owned the Mooney for several years and said his engine was overheating and he was trying to land at KTPF, “but it must have quit on the approach,” she said.
Meanwhile, a Tampa Police rescue boat had arrived, so Duffy pointed in the direction of the passenger who was drifting away. She followed the police and transferred the pilot to their boat after the second man was picked up. Duffy said the configuration of the Icon A5 actually made the rescue relatively easy, with the fatigued pilot able to climb aboard using the stub Seawings on the hull as a platform.
A Navy veteran who served as a communications tech on Guam working on submarines, Duffy took a discovery flight after her 2012 discharge and realized that aviation was the career she was looking for. She has an associate’s degree in flight technology and is “about 75 percent” on her way to a bachelor’s in aerospace management. She holds commercial ratings in land- (with multi) and seaplanes as well as helicopters. She also has her instructor rating, and 950 of the 1,850 hours’ total time in her logbook are in the Icon A5.
And no, she does not consider herself any kind of hero. She said, “I’m just glad I was in the right place at the right time.”