DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 270

57-6128 based at Fort Wainwright, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Photo: U. S. Army © Date unknown - Karl E. Hayes Collection
C-GLFK at Red Lake, Ontario.
Photo: Sheldon D. Benner © 12 August 1977 - Michael J. Ody Collection
N51KA engine runs after VAZAR conversion by Aeroflite at Vancouver - CYVR, British Columbia.
Photo: John Kimberley © June 1993 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
N51KA in service at Ketchikan.
Photo: Larry Milberry © 03 August 1993
N51KA on the ramp at Ketchikan - PAKT, Alaska.
Photo: Karl E. Hayes © September 1994
N270PA in PROMECH AIR colours, at Ketchikan.
Photo: Helge Nyhus © September 2006 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
N270PA at Ketchikan.
N270PA just twenty-two hours before the accident.
Photos: John W. Olafson © 19 June 2015

c/n 270

57-6128 • C-GLFK • N51KA

N270PA

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• 57-6128 United States Army. Delivered 21-Jun-1958. Designated U-1A.

Allocated to 12th Aviation Company at Fort Sill, OK., where it spent the whole of its U. S. Army career.

Aug-1961. Unit re-assigned to the Yukon Command at Fort Wainwright. AK., until inactivated on 21-Jun-1973.

• Un-regd. Donated to Alaska Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), noted in storage at Ten Mile Pond outside Anchorage. Aug-1973.

Total time: 4,750 hours.

C-GLFK William J.Bennett,(Gander Aviation Ltd), Gander, NL. Jul-1975

C-GLFK North Air Ltd., Gander, NL. Regd 13-Mar-1990. Canx 28-Jun-1991.

C-GLFK Leased to Trans Cote Inc., Lourdes de Blanc Sablon, QC. Regd 28-Jum-1991. Canx 04-May-1992.

N51KA. Ketchikan Air Service Inc., Ketchikan, AK. Regd 04-May-1992.

Airworthiness date: 18-May-1992.

N270PA Pantechnicon Aviation Ltd., Minden, NV. Regd 14-Jan-1997.

Power plant. Converted to Vazar turbine power in Feb-1993 by Aeroflite Industries, Vancouver, BC..

N270PA Operated on lease by Pro Mech Air, Ketchikan, AK.

Accident: Above Ella Lake, Misty Fjords National Monument. 20-Jun-2015.The float equipped DHC-3T Turbine Otter aircraft, operated by Promech Air, was destroyed when it impacted steep, mountainous tree-covered terrain about 25 miles northeast of Ketchikan above Ella Lake in the Misty Fjords area of Alaska. The pilot and eight passengers were killed. The aircraft departed a floating dock located in Rudyerd Bay about 44 miles northeast of Ketchikan about 12:00 hours for a tour through Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness. A company VFR flight plan was in effect.

N270PA Expired 31-May-2016.

Arrived in container 28-Oct-2017 at Courtenay, BC. To be rebuilt by International Aeroproducts. Completion by 2019.

To be rebuilt

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Otter 270 was delivered to the United States Army on 21st June 1958 with serial 57-6128 (tail number 76128). It was allocated to the 12th Aviation Company at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and was to spend its entire Army career assigned to this unit. In August 1961 it flew north to Fort Wainright, Alaska when the Company was re-assigned to Alaska to join the Yukon  Command.

76128 is mentioned honourably a few times in the unit history of the 12th Aviation Company. On 31st March 1971 it made history when a native child was born aboard the Otter while it was en route to Bethel. Temperature outside the aircraft at the time was 40 degrees below zero. On 8th  September 1971, flown by Captain William Brown, 76128 landed at McGrath en route from Bethel. After refuelling, he was informed of a native high school student who had badly injured his hand in an accident. Captain Brown immediately loaded the student aboard the Otter and flew on to Fort Wainwright, where medical facilities were better equipped to handle the emergency. Mid October 1972 found 76128 flying to several native villages in the bush. The Bureau of Indian Affairs needed to contact the natives of the Yukon River Drainage Area, and due to its excellent short field performance, the Otter was dispatched and spent two days flying in support of this government agency.

76128 was one of three Otters still flying with the 12th Aviation Company when it was inactivated on 21st June 1973, and was present at the stand-down ceremony held that day at Fort Wainright. In August 1973 the Otter is recorded as being donated to a vocational school, but ended up with the Alaska Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), in storage at Ten Mile Pond outside Anchorage. It  had 4,750 hours on the airframe at that stage. Also in storage at this location was Otter 329, tail number 81712, which had also been transferred to the CAP by the US Army. The Alaska Wing of the  CAP was somewhat under-funded at the time, and greatly welcomed receipt of such aircraft as the Otters from the Army, which could then be sold on.  In July 1975 Mr William J .Bennett of Gander Aviation Ltd., Gander, Newfoundland bought these two Otters from the CAP. When he arrived at Ten  Mile Pond, he found 270 to be in a dilapidated state but with a good engine. 329 was in a good state but its engine was shot. He swapped engines, putting the good engine on 329. Canadian registrations were allocated for both aircraft, number 270 becoming C-GLFK and 329 becoming C-GLFL. Number 329 was then flown back to Gander, but due to its poor condition, number 270 was taken by ship from Anchorage to Vancouver and then overland across the country to Gander for rebuild.

Number 270 C-GLFK performed its first test flight after the rebuild at Gander on 9th February 1977 and entered service with Gander Aviation Ltd. It was to fly for this company for the next  thirteen years, serving both the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador. Only one incident  is recorded, on 3rd March 1987 when the Otter made a precautionary landing after engine failure at Kelly's Pond, Newfoundland. It was repaired and returned to service. On 13th March 1990 it was registered to North Air Ltd., Gander, an associated company of Gander Aviation Ltd. It was leased to Trans Cote Inc., for the summer of 1991, based at Aéroport du Blanc Sablon, Québec on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. It then returned to Gander and last flew for Gander Aviation Ltd., in November 1991. It was then sold to Ketchikan Air Service Inc., who collected the Otter at Gander and flew it all the way to Ketchikan, the aircraft returning to Alaska from where it had come. It was registered to its new owners as N51KA on 4th May 1992. It was converted to a Vazar turbine Otter, arriving at Vancouver on 2nd February 1993 for the conversion, which was carried out by Aeroflite Industries. It then flew back to Ketchikan and flew as part of the Ketchikan Air Services fleet for some years.

By Sale Contract dated 1 October 1996 Ketchikan Air Service sold N51KA to Plains Manufacturing Ltd., of Lake Oswego, Oregon for $725,000. This was partly paid in cash and partly by the transfer of house property in Hawaii. By Bill of Sale 18 December 1996 Plains Manufacturing sold on the Otter to Pantechnicon Aviation Inc., of Glenbrook, Nevada to whom the Otter was registered in January 1997 as N270PA. Pantechnicon Aviation Inc., was an aircraft leasing company. By March 1997 N270PA was with Viking Air at Victoria, BC., being overhauled in preparation for lease. Work done included replacing of the leading edge strut during its Annual Inspection, also replacing the wing lift strut tie bar due to corrosion and incorporating all Airworthiness Directives. The Otter was put on straight floats.

The Otter’s lease brought it back to Ketchikan when it went on lease from Pantechnicon Aviation to Pro Mech Air in December 1997, painted into Pro Mech Air’s green and white colour scheme. Ketchikan Air Service had been closed down in March 1997 and Pro Mech Air, an existing Ketchikan-based operator with five Beavers and three Cessna 185s had moved to increase its fleet to take over the business. N270PA was registered to Pro Mech Air in April 1998, which also took two other turbine Otters on lease from Pantechnicon Aviation – N959PA (159) and N409PA (409). This three-strong turbo Otter fleet commenced flying Pro Mech’s scheduled and charter services from Ketchikan.

N270PA continued to fly for Pro Mech Air for the next 17 years, mostly used during the summer months providing sight-seeing flights to cruise ship passengers, alongside the company’s other Otters. This continued until it met with a most tragic accident on Thursday 25 June 2015, which resulted in the death of its pilot and eight cruise ship passengers. The ship, the “Westerdam” of the Holland-America Line, had arrived in Ketchikan on a cruise from Seattle and a number of its passengers were availing of sight-seeing flights with Pro Mech Air to the Misty Fjord National Park. Its website advertised such flights – “Towering granite cliffs, thousand foot waterfalls, lush and remote valleys and serene, crystalline lakes make up this incredible landscape”. Cost was $229 per person, billed as a “once in a lifetime trip” for the 75 minute flight.

The crash happened about 12:20 that day when the Otter crashed into a granite rock face near Ella Lake, some 25 miles north of Ketchikan, on a flight out of the Ketchikan seaplane base. It came to rest on a steep slope at the base of the cliff, 800 feet above the lake, instantly killing all on board. Weather at the time at the accident site was misty and overcast with gusty winds. The ELT activated and the aircraft was reported overdue when it did not arrive back at Ketchikan at its scheduled time.

The US Coast Guard launched a Jayhawk helicopter from its base at Sitka and a rescue ship from Ketchikan. The wreck of the Otter was spotted by a Temsco Helicopters pilot and the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad prepared to respond. The rescuers were dropped by helicopter a few hundred yards from the crash site, and climbed the rest of the way to the site, described as steep and covered in moss. They reached the site around 6pm and confirmed the deaths of all on board. Due to continued bad weather they were unable to assist further that evening. Two helicopters and two float planes brought more rescuers to the site. The Otter was described as being upright on a sixty degree slope at the base of a cliff. “It’s kind of hanging on the side of the mountain. The floats are broken off and it’s actually lying on top of the floats with the tail hanging out over a thirty foot drop. The terrain is muddy and leaf covered in some places, forested in others, mossy and slippy”.

The weather continued bad until noon the following day, Friday 26 June, when the skies cleared. The initial rescue crew secured the teetering fuselage with ropes, so that the victims could be recovered. The victims were carried, one by one, from the scene to a Coast Guard boat in a nearby bay, and then taken to Ketchikan, from where they were flown by Coast Guard C-130 Hercules to Anchorage. Recovering the wreck of the Otter from this most difficult location was going to take a lot longer. As one of the NTSB investigators explained, to avoid having to cut the fuselage into pieces, a heavy lift helicopter was required, which would be able to lift out the entire aircraft. A Bell 214B was the ideal machine for this job, but there was only one of this type in the entire State of Alaska. This was N214TH, a Bell 214B-1 owned by Temsco Helicopters and normally based at nearby Ketchikan. As it happened however this machine was then engaged in fighting wildfires north of Fairbanks and as it could not be taken off this important work, recovery of the Otter would have to wait a few weeks until it was available. The NTSB team therefore left the scene, to return when the helicopter arrived.  The lift occurred on Sunday 26 July 2015, when the wreck of the Otter was lifted from the crash site onto a barge. It was taken to Ketchikan the next day and put into the Pro Mech hangar at Peninsula Point to await NTSB examination.

The NTSB issued its report into the accident on 25 April 2017. It gave as the probable cause the pilot’s decision to continue flying VFR into an area of IMC conditions, which resulted in his geographic disorientation and controlled flight into terrain. They also found that the operator’s culture and lack of a formal safety programme were factors in the crash. The Board found that the pilot, who had less than two months experience flying air tours in South East Alaska, had demonstrated difficulty calibrating his own risk tolerance for conducting flights in marginal weather. Evidence from the investigation supported a finding that the pilot’s decisions were influenced by schedule pressures, his attempt to emulate the behaviour of more experienced pilots and the operator’s organizational culture, which tacitly endorsed flying in hazardous weather conditions.

The investigation found that the accident flight encountered deteriorating weather conditions over the southern half of Ella Lake and that at the time of the accident, the terrain was likely obscured by overcast clouds with visibility restricted in rain and mist. The pilot continued his flight in low visibility conditions, in an area where he lacked experience, thus reducing his ability to visually identify landmarks and resulted in a navigation error due to geographic disorientation. The pilot’s decision to fly a riskier overland route despite marginal weather conditions and the availability of a safer over-water route was influenced by schedule pressure and his attempt to emulate the behaviour of other, more experienced, pilots whose flights he was following.

Pro Mech Air were unable to survive the consequences of such a terrible crash and the operation was subsequently closed down. The wreck of the Otter arrived in a container at the end of October 2017 at International Aeroproducts Inc., of Courtenay, BC on Vancouver Island and at the same time a sale of the aircraft was noted on the US Civil Aircraft Register, giving the address of the buyer as PO Box 190933, Anchorage.  It appears that N270PA could be rebuilt or else parted out.  It had total time of 24,439 hours at the time of the crash.

Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005), now with added and updated information which Karl has supplied for the benefit of the website.x