Maureen O’Hara died on Saturday at her home in Boise, Idaho. She was 95. To most of the world she’ll be remembered for her major roles in numerous movie classics of the 1940s and ‘50s. But to many older Virgin Islanders, she’ll also be remembered for the years that she spent in the Virgin Islands, when she retired from show business to marry Gen. Charles F. (Charlie) Blair, an Air Force aviator and founder of the Virgin Islands seaplane company Antilles Air Boats. During her time in the Virgin Islands, Ms. O’Hara published and wrote a column for the magazine, The Virgin Islander and took over Antilles Airboats after Charlie Blair’s death in 1978.
Between 1967 and 1995 Antilles Airboats provided scheduled seaplane service between Cruz Bay and San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Croix and Tortola.
Antilles Airboats was the first commercial seaplane service to operate in the Virgin Islands started by flying ace, renowned test pilot and author Charlie Blair in 1964.
Charlie Blair distinguished himself, among countless other achievements, by flying his scarlet-red P-51 Mustang, named Excalibur III, non-stop from New York to London in 1951. In May of that same year Blair made the first solo flight over the North Pole delivering personally through the cockpit window a letter addressed to Santa Claus from his son, Chris. Excalibur III is now on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
In 1968, Charlie Blair married the famous movie actress Maureen O’Hara and the couple lived on St. Croix. By 1977, Antilles Air Boats, with a fleet of 23 amphibious aircraft including 19 Grumman Goose seaplanes, was making more than 100 flights a day, carrying some 250,000 passengers a year. Virgin Islanders often referred to Antilles Airboats as “The streetcar line of the Virgin Islands.”
Charlie Blair died in 1978 when the Grumman Goose he was piloting developed engine trouble and crashed between St. Croix and St. Thomas.
The present-day boat launching area on St. John once housed the seaplane ramp and rustic offices and ground facilities for Antilles Airboats. The company lost its planes to Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Afterwards, other companies took over, until they too lost their aircraft to a hurricane. This time it was Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. After that, the National Park announced that it would no longer lease the seaplane ramp and that wonderful scheduled seaplane service that at one time enabled visitors to change planes in San Juan and fly directly to Cruz Bay is no more.