Monday, October 15, 2007


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

I love the stories about the Otters that served in Vietnam, and then returned to their "place of birth" to continue their careers, "flying the bush". Sometimes I wonder how many Vietnam Vets, whom I hold in extremely "high regard", have actually flown recently in a Canadian-registered Otter enroute to a fishing lodge or outpost, that possibly transported them many years ago during that "dark time". Yes, "I know", worn gears in my brain, but I bet it has happened, possibly unbeknownst to all. Anyways, check out this "fine ship"!

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

De Havilland Canada


Otter 140

Otter 140 was delivered to the United States Army on 24th July 1956 with serial 55-3289 (tail number 53289). It was delivered to the 2nd Aviation Company, Fort Riley, Kansas and deployed with the unit to Illesheim, Germany. Although the 2nd Aviation Company moved to France in 1959, 53289 was assigned to support the Corps of Engineers, who were carrying out a survey in Iran. By April 1962 it had returned to Germany, where it was serving with the 394th Transportation Battalion. In January 1963 it re-joined the 2nd Aviation Company in France, where it continued to serve until July 1966 when it went to the depot at Coleman Barracks, Mannheim, Germany for overhaul and then storage. In March '67 it was allocated to the Aviation Section of the 69th Air Defence Artillery Brigade, 32nd Army Air Defence Command, based at Wurzburg Airfield. The Section had two OH-13 and one CH-34 Choctaw helicopter, the Otter and a Beaver. They were used to transport the Group Commander and his staff. The Otter returned to the Depot at Coleman Barracks in November '67. From there it was returned to the United States and then transported to Vietnam where in July 1968 it joined the 21st Signal Group, based at Nha Trang.

53289 was the only Otter serving with the unit at that time, its mission being to support all the outlying signal operations under the Group, which covered most of South Vietnam. Gerald Buchta was the pilot and he describes his arrival in country: “I arrived in Vietnam and was assigned to the 21st Signal Battalion on 5th June '68 and was sent to Vung Tau for Otter transition. It was the first time for me to even see an Otter, much less fly one, but I managed to get through the mandatory take-off and landings until I was told that I would have plenty of time to get proficient during the rest of my stay. I flew the Otter back to Nha Trang and received a mission to transport a group of communications specialists to Pleiku the next morning. The weather was not good, with thunderstorms forecast along the entire route, but since I really did not know better we left as scheduled.”

“Thunderstorms can always create problems and they certainly did for me this inaugural flight. The flight path was over and around some mountain peaks up to 6,800 feet and almost immediately after departure IFR conditions were encountered. The rain, thunder, lightning and turbulence were ferocious, with water coming into the cockpit around the instrument panel and my feet. My comfort level was at zero and I began to wonder if this was going to be my first and last mission. In spite of all this adversity the Otter just kept chugging along and after about two and half hours I was able to contact Pleiku tower, who was able to make radar contact and asked my altitude. When I responded he very urgently asked that I begin an emergency climb since my indicated position was in mountains higher than my altitude. Now since I was still in IFR conditions I only had my chart for reference I wondered about how I had gotten through the storm only to have it all end possibly flying into a mountain. However, vectors to final were followed successfully and we landed without further incident, with the passengers not having a clue that they all almost had met their doom while I also considered my future if all the missions would be like this one.”

Destinations served by the Otter included Quang Tri, Hue, Phu Bai, Da Nang, Chu Lai, Dak To, Pleiku, Qui Nhon, Ban Me Thuot, Gia, Nghia, Da Lat, Phan Thiet, Tay Ninh, Bien Hoa, Xuan Loc, Vung Tau, My Tho and Can Tho. The Otter continued flying for the 21st Signal Group until May 1969 when it was taken in charge by the 79th Transportation Company at Qui Nhon, who prepared it for shipment back to the United States. It arrived at the Army Depot, Atlanta, Georgia in October 1969 where it was placed into storage alongside many other Otters returned from Vietnam. It was deleted from the Army inventory in May 1972 and put up for disposal as military surplus.

53289 was one of six Army Otters purchased by Air Craftsmen Ltd of St.John Airport, New Brunswick, a company which traded in Otters, buying military surplus aircraft, restoring them as civilian aircraft and selling them on. The six Otters were reserved as CF-BEO/BEP/BEQ/BER/BEU and BEW. Otter 140 was reserved as CF-BEW and on 11th October 1972 a ferry permit was issued for a flight from the Forest Park Army Depot, Atlanta, Georgia to St. John Airport, New Brunswick where the aircraft was overhauled and converted to civilian configuration. It was then sold to White River Air Services Ltd and set off on its delivery flight on 12th June 1973 via Moncton and Toronto Island Airport to its new base at Moosonee, Ontario. It was registered to White River Air Services on 15th June '73 as CF-BEW, later becoming C-FBEW. In 1974 White River Air Services and Austin Airways Ltd came under the same ownership, which led to C-FBEW being operated as part of the Austin Airways fleet, based at Timmins, Ontario and serving the Ontario bush country.

In June 1983 the Otter went on lease to Pickle Lake Air Services Ltd, based at Pickle Lake, Ontario. It was still operated by this company when it crashed on 17th March 1986 at a 'no name' lake 46 miles north of its Pickle Lake base. On arrival at the remote lake, the pilot carried out a precautionary approach to assess the surface conditions. With climb flap set and the skis partially retracted, the aircraft was flown over the ice, so that the wheels left imprints in the snow cover. The pilot carried out an overshoot during which he noted water in the tire tracks, deemed that area unsuitable for landing and circled left for a second pass over another section of the lake. The same procedure was followed, but after the throttle was advanced for the overshoot, the port wing folded upward and the aircraft rolled over. One passenger, who was sitting on the cargo and was not restrained, was injured. All other occupants were properly restrained and were uninjured. It appears that during the first approach, the port ski had struck an ice ridge, damaging the ski and its attachments, which subsequently failed. The ski, which was connected to the fuselage by check cables, swung out under the port wheel and severed the wing strut, causing the wing to fold.

By coincidence, the same fate befell this Otter as did the previous aircraft, number 139. Otter BEW was considered salvageable and an attempt was made to retrieve it from the accident site by helicopter. This did not work and the Otter was further damaged when dropped by the helicopter. The Otter was taken to Kuby's Aircraft, Kenora, Ontario. The fuselage of the aircraft was still present in Kuby's Yard during 2004.


Otter 140

C-FBEW. Following its crash on 17 March 1986 near its base at Pickle Lake, Ontario and further damage caused when it was dropped by the helicopter attempting to retrieve it from the crash site, the wreck was brought to Kuby’s Aircraft, Kenora, Ontario where it lay for many years. It was one of four wrecked Otters sold to Recon Air of Geraldton, Ontario in October 2005, and which were trucked to Geraldton for rebuild.

- by Karl E. Hayes

"Wow", she will "fly again"........ (and may be flying already.....)


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