Sunday, March 11, 2007


Steve's "Otter Of The Week"! Karl E. Hayes

So far we have profiled Otters that have operated on wheels, skis, and floats, from the jungles of Vietnam, to the "unspoiled" wonder of Alaska, to the "barren" beauty of Canada's "Arctic climes"! There is another "place", though, cold enough to "freeze the balls off a brass monkey", where the Otter operated. Today, we head south to find a Continent buried under "3 miles of ice" in places, where the names of Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, and Byrd still "hang in the wind", to read about "The Otter That Came In From The Cold"! This Otter was operated by the British Antarctic Survey, but first a little BAS "Antarctic Otter" history.

All information is from Karl Hayes' "masterful" CD entitled:

De Havilland Canada

Also, at the very end of my "Post", find Karl Hayes' "Contact and CD Info"......


VP-FAK 294
VP-FAL 377
VP-FAM 395

British scientific efforts in the Antarctic are conducted by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), as a department of the National Environment Research Council. The BAS is supported by its own Air Unit, which, like several other government Antarctic research programmes (United States, Belgium, Chile, Argentina) operated the Otter. During the late 1940s/early 1950s, the operation was known as the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS) and a number of Austers, a Hornet Moth and a Norseman were flown, all registered on the Falklands Islands register (VP- ). During the period 1955/56 to 1956/57, Hunting Aero Surveys of Canada operated two PBY Canso aircraft (CF-IJJ and CF-IGJ) on behalf of the Falklands Islands Dependencies Aerial Survey Expedition.

In 1959, an Otter (VP-FAK, serial number 294) and a Beaver (VP-FAJ serial number 1342) were purchased from DHC for operation by the FIDS, and these arrived at the Deception Island base, Antarctica on 26th January 1960 on board the MV Kista Dan. They were re-assembled and entered service. The Beaver FAJ was lost when it broke through sea ice whilst taxying at Argentine Islands on 16th September 1960. Another Otter was ordered to replace it and this aircraft (VP-FAL serial 377) arrived at Deception Island on board the 'Kista Dan' on 11th January 1961. Having been reassembled, it made its first flight on 21st January 1961 and was ready to enter service alongside Otter VP-FAK. The two Otters would fly together for four years. During 1961 the operation was still known as the FIDS but by the following year was being referred to as the British Antarctic Survey Air Unit.

The pattern of operation each year was the same. The aircraft wintered and were maintained at the Deception Island base. All activity took place during the austral summer, lasting from November to the end of March. Each austral spring, the Otters were flown 410 miles south to the Southern Air Base on Adelaide Island, and operated from there until returning to Deception Island at the end of each March, where they were stored for the austral winter, corresponding to the summer in the northern hemisphere.

Otter 294

Otter 294 was delivered to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on 5th November 1959, registered VP-FAK. It was packed into a crate and shipped to Deception Island in the Antarctic, arriving 26th January 1960. Also purchased at the same time was Beaver VP-FAJ (1342), which was shipped to Deception Island along with the Otter, both arriving on board the vessel 'MV Kista Dan'. Sir Vivian Fuchs, in his book “Of Ice and Men” describes how the Otter arrived at the base at Deception Island, for operation by what was then known as the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS):-

“Our first priority was to build a raft on which to tow the Otter's fuselage ashore. For this we had brought a number of Army bridge building pontoons, on which a platform was now constructed. Once ashore the plane was man-hauled onto the beach and up to the airstrip. The wings came ashore the same way in immensely heavy crates. Fitting them was a formidable task for there was no mechanical way of lifting them into position, but the operation was another triumph of FID-power. An empty crate was hauled into position and sixteen stalwarts stood on it. A wing was then passed to them and amid many a groan and grunt of 'Careful, for God's sake' they managed to lift the wing above their heads. Now came the strain, for tall men bore the weight on hunched shoulders, while short ones had their arms fully extended above their heads. A comic situation developed when it was found that two volunteers were too short even to reach the underside of the wing and a second tier of boxes had to be provided to enable them to play their part. Then, proud of their success, the FIDS had to repeat the whole exercise on the other side. Fitting the propeller and the brake hydraulic system also gave the engineers trouble, but two days later the first test flight was made”.

The official BAS history of VP-FAK reads as follows: “Fitted with wheel skis. Wintered and serviced at Deception Island. Operated during summers from Adelaide Island from 1960/61 onwards. Damaged by gale at Deception Island 6th October 1961 and by crevasse accident at Adelaide Island 19th December 1964. On a flight to Keystone Cliffs, damage was sustained on the bottom fuselage aft of the main loading doors. A runway was marked with flags and the Muskeg tractor was driven along the proposed landing strip to ensure that it was crevasse-free. As the Otter was turning at the end of the marked runway for take off, it went off the runway and the tail ski sunk into a crevasse.

Fortunately the pilot was manoeuvring the aircraft at nearly full power and the Otter had enough momentum to come out of the hole by itself. The damage was extensive but was repaired and the Otter resumed service. The first airborne radio echo sounding in the Antarctic was carried out using VP-FAK during the 1966/67 season. The Otter continued in service until it was grounded due to extensive metal fatigue in the fuselage on 26th March 1967. Written off at the end of the season”.

The Deception island base was closed due to a volcanic eruption in December 1967 and the BAS moved to Adelaide Base on Adelaide Island. The fuselage of VP-FAK remained at Deception Island, lying outside against the abandoned hangar. It was still to be seen there in 2004, thirty seven years after it had been “written off”. Over the years, Deception Island was visited by many tourists to the Antarctic and photographs they took of the abandoned Otter were circulated around the world on the web, arousing much interest in the aircraft, despite its very remote location. As far as the BAS was concerned, their former base at Whaler's Bay on Deception Island was designated as a Historic Site and protected under Antarctic Treaties, as were all artefacts located there, including the Otter. It appears however that some individual did not agree with this interpretation, claimed the right to salvage the Otter and threatened to do just that. To prevent that happening and to preserve their historic Otter, BAS took action in April 2004.

The logistics support ship 'RRS Ernest Shackleton', which was engaged on a clean up of several old abandoned BAS bases, was diverted to Deception Island to collect the Otter, arriving there on 3rd April 2004. This proved quite a task. First of all, the volcanic ash all around the aircraft had to be dug away and a crane used to lift the Otter fuselage onto a trailer, on which it was towed to the beach. From there the crane lifted it onto a barge, which took it out to the ship, and it was winched on board. As well as the fuselage, the wings, tail section and one ski from the Otter were located in the hangar. In the course of cleaning up a rubbish dump at nearby Kroner Lake, the other ski was found, as was the Otter's engine. All these pieces were also loaded on board the 'RRS Ernest Shackleton' which sailed for the current BAS Antarctic base at Rothera, where it arrived on 18th April. Here the Otter was unloaded, placed on a trailer and towed by a tractor to the BAS hangar, where it was placed into storage for safekeeping, while a decision is made on its ultimate fate.

***Latest Update!***

Otter 294

VP-FAK. Having been retrieved from Deception Island, Antarctica where it had lain for years, the Otter was brought by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) vessel ‘RRS James Clark Ross’ from Deception Island to Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands, arriving 31 January 2005. It was stored on a trailer at Port Stanley for a time, before being shipped to the UK on board the ‘RRS Ernest Shackleton’ arriving Grimsby on 8th May 2005. It was then roaded to the De Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre at London-Colney for restoration to static display condition and went on longterm loan to the Heritage Centre from the BAS.

There are some excellent photographs of the Otter arriving at the museum on the website, As the website explains: “With the full cooperation of BAS, this Otter will become the launch in Spring 2006 of the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Learning Experience. It will be the centre-piece of a diaroma illustrating the world-class scientific achievements of the British Antarctic Survey and the key role played by de Havilland aircraft for fifty years in supporting this vital work”. According to BAS records, VP-FAK flew a total of 981 hours in the Antarctic until it was grounded in March 1967.

- by Karl E. Hayes

Totally "enthralling", operating in the same region as the 20th Century's "Great Explorers", "The Otter That Came In From The Cold"!

"Thanks, Karl"!



"The Otter That Came In From The Cold"!

CONTACT and CD INFO - De Havilland DHC-3 OTTER - A HISTORY by Karl E. Hayes

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