Monday, January 14, 2008


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

Many of the Otters we have profiled have had "injury-plagued" careers. The Otter is one airframe, though, that always seemed able to be "rejuvenated and returned" to the air. Here is one aircraft that experienced some "bush rash", but seemingly somewhat less than an average Otter would over a long career.

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

De Havilland Canada


Otter 90

Otter 90 was delivered to Stanair Ltd, Fort Nelson, BC on 21st March 1956, registered CF-ITS. Stanair was the aviation department of the Stanolind Oil and Gas Company, which since 1948 had been exploring the Yukon, Northwest Territories, northeastern BC and northwestern Alberta regions. The company's first two aircraft were two DHC-2 Beavers, acquired in 1953. Based at Fort Nelson, BC, they were used to move seismic crews, surveyors and geologists around the swamps and boreal forests of northern Canada. Otter ITS was added to the fleet in March 1956, bringing a welcome increase in capacity to support camp moves, and Otter NFI followed later.

Despite its operation in these remote regions, the Otter was not involved in any accidents. It features twice in the Western SAR Area file, when communications difficulties were encountered. The first occasion was on 7th February 1958 on a flight from its base at Fort Nelson to the Beaver Strip and onwards to Steen River. The second occasion was on 10th June '58 on a flight from Fort Smith to Fort Simpson. ITS continued in service with Stanair for eight years, before being sold to McMurray Air Services Ltd of Uranium City, Saskatchewan in April 1964. It continued to fly for this company until taken over by Gateway Aviation Ltd of Edmonton. The three McMurray Otters ITS, LAP and MES, were registered to Gateway Aviation in October 1969.

ITS joined the Gateway Aviation fleet, painted in their colours, although it remained based at Uranium City. It suffered an accident in May 1971, which is described in Denny McCartney's excellent book “Picking Up The Pieces”. The Otter had gone through the ice on a lake half way between Uranium City and Great Slave Lake. It was the first week in May and the ice had started melting. ITS was quite some distance from the shore, and had sunk through the ice, with the fuselage resting in the water and the wings flat on the surface of the ice, the posture of many an unfortunate Otter over the years. The rescue party flew to the scene on another Gateway Otter. Steel drums had already been placed alongside the fuselage to prevent ITS from sinking if the ice gave way. The pilot explained that he had made a good landing and at the end of the run he had come to a complete stop when suddenly the left wheel broke through the ice. He shut off the engine and scrambled out, in complete disbelief at what had happened. The aircraft had continued to settle into the water as the ice failed, until the wings were flat on the ice surface, preventing the aircraft from sinking to the bottom.

The rescue party concluded that the ice was in too dangerous a condition to lift the aircraft and that it was only a matter of days before the ice would fail completely, sending the Otter to the bottom. Speed was of the essence, and so they created a canal to the shore by blasting through the ice with dynamite. The fuel drums under the wings were replaced with pontoons, to provide greater flotation, and which left the wings free of the ice. The Otter was floated down the channel to the shore, where it was winched up onto solid ground, where repairs began. Next, an airstrip was built from which the Otter could depart. The rescue party cut down a line of stunted northern spruce trees level with the ground and cleared the strip of stones. On 12th May 1971 CF-ITS took off from this makeshift airstrip, flying first to Uranium City and then to Edmonton, where permanent repairs were made.

CF-ITS returned to service with Gateway Aviation, and continued in the company's service, being re-registered C-FITS, until it was sold to Slate Falls Airways Ltd of Sioux Lookout, Ontario to whom it was registered in September 1976. It was to faithfully serve this carrier for more than twenty years. Only one incident is recorded, on 5th October 1988 at Lake St.Joseph, Ontario. While cruising, the engine lost all power and the Otter made a safe, forced landing on the lake. It was found that a cylinder had failed. In November '88 the registered owner was changed to Slate Falls Airways (1987) Ltd, still based at Sioux Lookout. Having served the Sioux Lookout community for more than twenty years, ITS was sold and in January 1997 was registered to its new owners, Cochrane Air Services Ltd of Cochrane-Lillabelle Lake, Ontario. For the most part the Otter was used to service fishing lodges during the summer months, on behalf of the Kesagami Fly-In Outposts Company. Before the start of the summer season, the Otter was used on skis during March/April of each year to fly fuel into the fishing lodges, in preparation for the summer season.

One incident was recorded on 19th June 2001. The Otter was on a VFR flight from Kesagami Lake to Lillabelle Lake waterdrome. At approximately fifty miles northeast of Cochrane, the Otter experienced a partial loss of power which the pilot was unable to rectify. The Otter was not capable of maintaining a constant altitude, so the pilot elected to conduct a forced approach to a lake 41 miles northeast of Cochrane. The pilot landed ITS successfully and activated the aircraft's ELT beacon. When the flight became overdue, the manager of Cochrane Air Services notified the Rescue Co-Ordination Centre, who despatched a Canadian Armed Forces Hercules from Trenton. The ELT signal was received by the Hercules and a local helicopter company, Expedition Helicopters Inc, despatched a Jet Ranger to effect rescue of the eight passengers and pilot. Rescue operations were uneventful, with the last passenger extracted from the scene twenty three hours after the Otter had landed. A cylinder failure in the R-1340 engine had caused the power loss. C-FITS was soon repaired and back in service with Cochrane Air Services.


Otter 90

C-FITS. This Otter flew for Cochrane Air Services until the end of the summer 2005 season, when it was sold. It was noted in early December 2005 at the AOG facility at Kelowna, BC paint stripped and in the course of conversion to a Walter turbine. It was sold to Tofino Air Lines of Gibsons, BC, registered to them on 3rd February 2006 and departed Kelowna on delivery early June 2006.

From Kelowna C-FITS flew to Campbell River on Vancouver Island where it was fitted with a ‘glass cockpit’ by ASAP Avionics Service. Very few Otters have this modification. A company called SAGEM Avionics Inc hold the STC for this modification, for which ASAP Avionics is a licensed installer. As its website explains: “One or two SAGEM multi- function displays (MFDs) can be used to present engine data. The MFDs can be further enhanced with a moving map display to improve situational awareness. The upgraded installation reduces the clutter of conventional instruments, increases operational efficiency and improves flight safety”. The Otter then continued to Tofino, its new base, on the west coast of Vancouver Island and entered service with Tofino Air. It joined a fleet of four Beavers serving the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Vancouver Island and Canada’s Gulf Islands. The company offers a scheduled seaplane service from Vancouver’s South Terminal to Sechelt, Nanaimo, Victoria and Gabriola Island, plus scenic charter tours from its Tofino base, using the Otter or a Beaver depending on the passenger load.

- by Karl E. Hayes

Great story! "Blow" a channel through the ice with "dynamite", and float the Otter back to shore! "Wile E. Coyote" would be proud!




-photo by Pete Killin


-photo by Pete Killin

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