DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 182

55-3317
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Otter 182 was delivered to the United States Army on 30th November 1956 with serial 55-3317 (tail number 53317). It first served with the 3rd Aviation Company, Fort Riley, Kansas and moved with the unit when it deployed to Germany in July 1957, establishing at Illesheim. The 3rd Aviation Company disbanded in November 1959. 53317 was then assigned to the 572nd Engineer Platoon
(Topographic Aviation) based at Wheelus Air Base, Tripoli, Libya. In October 1959 the Otter was on overhaul at the SABCA facility at Gosselies south of Brussels, Belgium just having completed its service with the 3rd Aviation Company. A crew from the 572nd Engineer Platoon flew one of their Otters to Gosselies for overhaul, and collected 53317 and flew it to Wheelus, where it entered
service with the Platoon.

In July 1961 the Otter was flown back to the SABCA facility at Gosselies for overhaul, its total airframe time at that stage being 1,591 hours. It then returned to the 572nd Engineer Platoon, but was assigned to the Platoon's operation in Iran, known as the Topographic Training Team, based at Qualeh Morgeh airfield, Tehran. It supported topographic survey activities in Iran, flying alongside the unit's L-20 Beaver and L-23 Seminole aircraft. It continued in use in Iran until destroyed in an accident on 27th January 1962, at which stage it had a total time of 1,807 hours. On that Saturday, the Otter was tasked to fly from Qualeh Morgeh to Vahdati Air Base, Dezful, high in the Zagros Mountains. Originally two L-20 Beavers were tasked, but due to the amount of cargo to be carried, the Otter was substituted. The Otter and its pilot, Captain Daniel Knotts, were attached to the Topo Training Team. The second pilot, Major Donald Carder, was attached to the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Iran and the flight was being operated for the MAAG. There were two
passengers and a crew chief, as well as the cargo. On departure at 07:54 hours local time, the flight contacted the local Army radio net and gave an ETA of 10:20 for its destination.

Good flying weather was experienced in the initial part of the flight, the Otter cruising at 7,000 feet. As it approached the mountains, it was forced to climb to 15,000 feet, at which stage it was 100 feet on top of a broken cloud condition. The Otter drifted off course due to strong winds, unknown to the crew, due to loss of contact with the ground and weak reception of the NDB at the destination airfield. By this stage, the flight was one hundred miles off course and somewhat lost. As the subsequent accident report put it, the winds were of such intensity “to practically nullify forward progress of an aircraft having such a slow cruising speed as the Otter”. At 11:30 hours, more than an hour after the Otter should have arrived at its destination, Captain David Bowell, the pilot of an Iranian Airways Viscount on flight 414 from Tehran to Isfahan, Shiraz, Abadan and return, heard 53317 attempting to contact Vahdati Tower and relayed for the Otter. By coincidence, Captain Bowell was a Canadian and knew all about Otters. 53317 reported that it was still at 15,000 feet and having difficulty getting accurate ADF bearings.

At 11:46 hours, 53317 crashed into the mountains. Initial contact was made along a narrow ridge line at the 12,500 foot level, causing stoppage of the engine and the left wing began to separate from the aircraft. The aircraft became airborne again as the ground fell away from where it had impacted. It struck the ground again further on and came to rest, inverted on its back in deep snow. None of the five on board were killed, although all received some injuries. It appears however that as a result of an extended period at high altitude without oxygen, and suffering from shock as a result of the crash, none of the five were capable of thinking clearly. The Otter had come to rest in deep snow on a steep bank. Without any plan of how to proceed, they evacuated the aircraft and rolled some distance down the mountain, where they became separated, buried in deep snow and incapable of moving further, either up or down the mountain.

The five remained where they had come to rest and took what individual steps they could to survive. On the following day, Sunday 28th January, they were sighted by rescue aircraft, which dropped bundles of food and clothing, most of which missed their target and rolled down the mountain. Heavy snow on Monday 29th precluded any rescue activity that day. By this stage, of course, a major rescue effort was underway, with USAF aircraft and helicopters of the 58th Air Rescue Squadron at Wheelus Air Base brought in to assist. On Tuesday morning, 30th January, two US Army medical corpsmen arrived in the vicinity of the crash site by civilian helicopters, the civilians apparently managing better to negotiate the terrain than the rescue services. That same morning, a USAF Rescue C-54 paradropped two paramedics over the crash site, but they missed the target and landed on a small ledge on the face of the mountain. They were of no assistance during the rescue operation, and in fact had to be rescued themselves. The two US Army medical corpsmen found two of the survivors from the Otter and rendered assistance.

On Wednesday morning, 31st January, two Iranian Army mountain climbers arrived on the mountain by civilian helicopter and assisted in moving two of the survivors to the helipad for evacuation. On Thursday 1st February four more Iranian mountain climbers arrived by civilian helicopter and rescued the two stranded USAF paramedics. By this stage, the bodies of the two Otter pilots, who had sadly died of exposure, were found. The fifth occupant of the Otter was never found. The two survivors and the bodies of the two pilots were evacuated from the mountain by US Army helicopter. The Iranians remained at the scene to conduct salvage and recovery operations. As the accident report continues: “February 3, 4 and 5 the weather precluded any other aircraft from reaching the site and the individuals on the mountain were unable to accomplish any recovery work, but fought to remain alive themselves. On 6th February, ten days after the accident, the people on the mountain were evacuated and a party of nine Alpine climbers, who were flown in from Germany, were delivered to the crash site to begin recovery operations. February 7 and 8 the weather again precluded any recovery operations and the Alpine mountain climbers fought to stay alive. February 9th the Alpine climbers were evacuated from the site and the decision was made to cease all further recovery operations”.

At around the same time the Otter had departed on its fateful flight, an Imperial Iranian Air Force C-47 aircraft planning a flight from Tehran to Dezful had received the weather conditions which 53317 had received, indicating marginal conditions en route and at destination, and its crew had decided not to proceed. For some time before the flight, Major Carder, the MAAG officer who was the co-pilot on 53317, had been trying to “sell the Command” on the theory that the U-1A Otter aircraft was better suited than the L-20 Beaver to support the MAAG mission in Iran, although his recommendations had not been overly successful. The accident report concluded that Captain Knotts, in trying to assist Major Carder in proving his theory on the Otter, was prompted to over-ride his normal good judgement and to fly into conditions he might better have avoided.

Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).