The story of how a British Seaplane was stranded on a remote island in Faafu Atoll in 1917
In 1917 during World War 1, a British Naval Carrier ‘HMS Raven II’ was on a reconnaissance mission in the Indian ocean searching for the German Raider ship the ‘Wolf’.
During the part of the mission in the Maldives, one of the seaplanes; a “Short 184” never returned and was believed to have been lost in the storm.
After carrying out a failed search attempt, ‘HMS Raven II’ left for Ceylon reporting the seaplane missing and the pilots assumed to have drowned. However, the pilots were very much alive.
On a late afternoon on 21st April 1917, Two pilots, 29-year-old Captain Abbott Mead, and 22-year-old co-pilot Smith were on a search mission from Male’ to Ari Atoll.
The crew ran into a storm and were driven off course and lost all radio contacts with the naval ship.
Eventually, they were forced to land near one of the remote islands as darkness approached. The seaplane was stuck at first due to low tide but managed to move around once the tide began to rise.
They taxied around in search of a channel with no luck and eventually decided to taxi at high speed over the reef and into the calm waters inside the lagoon.
“There was nothing but the lighting to help us beach the machine beneath a bank of white coral sand crowned with coconut trees, which grew right down to the water's edge. We roped her to one of them. Then as the storm increased in violence, we spend a miserable night lying along the lower plane in an attempt to get some little shelter from the driving rain” - Captain Mead
There was no food or water available on the island. The following morning with the rising sun the crew departed again in search of the mainland running very low on fuel.
Eventually, they ran out of fuel and landed near the Filitheyo island. The wind and tides then pushed the seaplane to a reef nearby.
Exhausted from trying to keep the seaplane off the reef and with night approaching, the two pilots decided to swim towards the island in hopes of receiving assistance from locals.
They reached the island after a mile and a half long swim. Once ashore they managed to find three huts with coconuts inside and drifted off to sleep. Late in the night, they were awakened by sound of locals:
“Salaam!’ Smith said, in his friendliest tones. There was one wild shriek of terror. The crazy lamp was dashed to the ground where the coconut oil flared up for a moment and the died out and back into the intricate-mazes of the palm-grove dashed three panic-stricken forms” said Captain Mead
There was no sign of the men the next morning. The pilots spend the day constructing a raft and the seaplane can still be seen floating on the horizon.
The following day they spotted a small fleet of fishing boats, the two waved and shouted in an attempt to get their attention however the fishermen sailed off into the distance. A while later the boats came back and the pilots swam towards them.
“A fierce babbling of voices greeted us as we came alongside and hung to the boats. Not a word could we understand, for they supplied us with some rags of garments and fed us with dried fish. There Followed an infinite amount of jabbering and gesticulating while we endeavored to persuade them to take us out to the distance plane, now nothing but a dot on the horizon. - Captain Mead
A fleet of eleven dhonis towed the seaplane to Feeali island where it was dragged into the beach and later a thatched hut built over it.
“Some of the bolder spirits became more friendly. Then we took them down to the beach and showed them the plane and our instruments, particularly the wireless Telegraph battery, with which we gave them electric shocks. That caused a sensation on the island, I assure you, and Guy and I were regarded with more superstitious awe than ever. But that suited our purpose very well since it gave them a wholesome fear of the plane.” - Captain Mead
The pilots were eventually taken to Male’ to meet the Sultan who was exceedingly kind. The pilots were given a stay at the palace and given uniforms of private officers of his private guard. A few days later the pilots set sail to Ceylon.
The Short 184
The Short Admiralty Type 184, was a British two-seat reconnaissance, bombing and torpedo carrying folding-wing seaplane introduced in 1915.
The Short 184 was the first aircraft to sink a ship using a torpedo and there was a total of 936 aircraft type build.