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Sunday, September 21, 2014         

HAWAII’S BACKYARD


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Oahu from on high

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

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During his 55-year career as a seaplane pilot, Pat Magie has flown hunters, fishermen and freight of all kinds (even a full-grown grizzly bear) in wilderness regions in Minnesota, Alaska, Florida, Canada, Southeast Asia, the Arctic and the Caribbean. He has also piloted numerous medevac flights, sometimes at night in adverse weather conditions and over unfamiliar lakes with no lighting.

IF YOU GO …

ISLAND SEAPLANE SERVICE

» Address: 85 Lagoon Drive, Honolulu
» Phone: 836-6273
» Tours: Six flights daily at 9:15 and 10:45 a.m. and 12:15, 1:45, 3:15 and 4:45 p.m. Check in at least 15 minutes before departure.
» Email: seaplaneservice@aol.com
» Website: www.islandseaplane.com
» Notes: Round-trip transportation provided from any Waikiki hotel, or meet at the company’s headquarters near Honolulu Airport. Island Seaplane Service also offers training for licensed pilots to obtain a single-engine seaplane rating. Call for details.

TOUR DETAILS
Kamaaina receive a 20 percent discount. Flights are free for children under 2 years old if they ride in a parent’s lap.

ALOHA FLIGHT
30 minutes, $135 per person
This tour along the southeastern coast of Oahu offers views of Honolulu Harbor, Aloha Tower, Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head Crater, Kahala, Koko Crater, Hanauma Bay, Sea Life Park, Kaneohe Bay and the Arizona Memorial.

ISLANDER FLIGHT
1 hour, $250 per person
Covers Aloha Flight sights plus highlights of the Windward coast and North Shore, including Chinaman’s Hat, Kualoa, Kahana Bay, Polynesian Cultural Center, the Mormon temple, Brigham Young University-Hawaii, Kahuku Sugar Mill, Haleiwa and surfing spots. Then proceed south over pineapple fields, Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Air Field, Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base.

PUPUS AND FLIGHT
$135 per person, minimum of 12 people
A 20-minute flight plus pupu on Island Seaplane Service’s dock. Includes mai tai punch, sausages, cheeses, egg rolls, potstickers, chips, crudités and dips.

AIR TOUR AND CATERED DINNER
$179 per person, minimum of 20 people
Combine a 20-minute flight with a sunset buffet dinner of barbecued chicken, pasta salad, rice, rolls, dessert and mai tai punch.

One of his most memorable experiences was being cast as Catherine Zeta-Jones’ body double in her first movie, “The Phantom,” released in 1996. “She played a villainess who was a seaplane pilot,” recalled Magie, co-founder of Island Seaplane Service on Oahu. “We filmed most of the movie in Thailand, and I did all the stunt flying for it, wearing a wig of long dark hair so I’d look like her from far away. It wasn’t a pretty sight.”

Magie and his seaplanes have appeared in many other movies, television shows and commercials; in Hawaii they include “Godzilla” (1998), starring Matthew Broderick; “50 First Dates” (2004), with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore; and the 1998 remake of the “Fantasy Island” TV series.

“Yes, it’s our DeHavilland Beaver that’s ‘De plane! De plane!’ in the opening scene of the show,” Magie said. He’s so fond of that particular aircraft, he has owned at least a dozen of them at one time or another.

Several years ago Jimmy Buffett stopped by Island Seaplane Service’s floating dock and office beside Keehi Lagoon to meet Magie. They became friends, and whenever Buffett is in Honolulu, he tries to set aside time to fly the Beaver with Magie as his co-pilot.

“Jimmy owns four seaplanes,” Magie said. “Last year he asked if he could film our Beaver with Diamond Head in the background so he could show it on a 30-foot screen at all of his concerts. Of course, we said yes!”

The “we” refers to Magie’s wife, Debbie, his partner in the business, which is celebrating its 13th anniversary this year. Magie’s dad, William Henry Magie Jr., was a pilot in the 1920s and early 1930s who held a license signed by Orville Wright (that heirloom is displayed in Island Seaplane Service’s office). Orville and Wilbur, the famed Wright brothers, are credited with inventing, building and, in 1903, piloting the first successful “flying machine.”

Magie has earned a place in aviation history himself, having logged 32,000 hours flying seaplanes with no accidents — a world record. He and three other experienced pilots offer daily flight-seeing tours of Oahu in the six-seat Beaver and a four-seat Cessna 206.

“Keehi Lagoon is the most beautiful runway in the world,” Magie said. “We have downtown Honolulu, Waikiki and Diamond Head as a backdrop, and as we’re building up speed to take off, it’s like we’re in a speedboat. Then we lift off into the sky — what a thrill! Today you can take a helicopter tour just about anywhere, but you won’t get the chance to ride in a seaplane that often.”

Every passenger has a window seat, and Island Seaplane Service’s planes are equipped with a two-way intercom system, which allows the pilot to converse with his passengers throughout the flight.

“We maintain an altitude of between 1,500 and 2,500 feet — high enough to get a panoramic view but low enough so you can recognize the sights the pilot is talking about,” Magie said. “Our tours showcase Oahu’s diversity — the cityscape, rain forests, dramatic mountain ranges, neighborhoods stretching deep into the valleys. There are incredible views from the first to the last minute of every tour.”

On the one-hour Islander Flight, the plane turns at the northernmost tip of Oahu and soars over its center, following the same route that Japanese Zeros took to bomb Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. “That strikes an emotional chord with World War II veterans,” Magie said. “Many of them have told us it brings tears to their eyes and gives them chicken skin.”

Passengers have included a 4-month-old baby, a kamaaina celebrating her 100th birthday and every age in between. The Magies are tickled pink every time they receive a request to arrange an in-flight marriage proposal.

“The young men are nervous, but not as nervous as we are until they get back and we see the big smiles on the couples’ faces,” Magie said. “We toast them with champagne; we’re happy to be a part of their special day. We’ve had guests from all around the world, and we treat them as we would like to be treated — just like family.”

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.






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