Otter 369 was delivered on 6th May 1960 to the Ontario Provincial Air Service (OPAS) registered CF-ODU, based at Sault Ste.Marie, Ontario. In September 1972 the registered owner was changed to Province of Ontario, Ministry of Natural Resources, registration C-FODU. The Otter faithfully served the Province for 26 years, until an accident on 24th August 1986 ended its career. As with the other Ontario Government Otters, ODU was temporarily based at various locations throughout the Province, particularly during the summer months. That August, it was based out of Moosonee in northern Ontario, where the Moose River enters James Bay. That morning, the Otter had started out at Timmins, and flown to Moosonee where four 45 gallon drums of turbo fuel were loaded on board, to be brought to a caribou research camp on the Hudson Bay coast. The Otter was being used for off-strip work, landing on old beach ridges. It was configured as a wheel-plane.
The fuel drums were well secured with ropes and a cargo net. The Otter took off for Attawapiskat, further north along the James Bay coast and was cruising over the Bay at an altitude of 3,500 feet when the engine backfired and began to lose power. The pilot tried to make the coast, where he knew his best change of a successful landing would be, but realized that he might not make it over a row of trees that lined the shoreline. He chose his only other option, which was a bog area free of trees. Prior to touchdown he selected full flap and held the main wheels off as long as he could, to the point where the tailwheel was dragged through the bog for a short distance. When the main wheels contacted, they immediately began to dig into the soft ground. The Otter decelerated rapidly but stayed upright for a short distance before flipping on its back. The wheels left ruts in the bog two feet deep, which quickly filled with water. The pilot made a rapid exit, thankfully walking away without a scratch. Good cargo nets and his shoulder harness had saved the day.
The Otter itself, although intact, was fairly battered, “substantially damaged”, in the words of the accident report, and was in a very remote location. Mechanics were despatched to the scene and spent two days unbolting the wings, taking off the engine and removing all loose equipment. All of these items were slung out by Huisson Aviation Ltd., Bell Long Ranger helicopter C-GOVB and airlifted to Moosonee. Finally, the fuselage itself was picked up by a Bell 205 on its way south from Winisk, and also deposited at Moosonee. The dismantled Otter was then loaded on a train flat bed and taken by rail to its base at Sault Ste. Marie. During the mid 1980s, the Ministry was in the process of disposing of its Otter fleet and ODU languished in the hangar at Sault Ste. Marie, pending a decision as to whether it was to be repaired. One by one the airworthy Otters were sold off, with the last of them gone in early 1991, but all the while ODU remained in the hangar in its damaged condition.
Salvation for the Otter came from the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre (CBHC), formed in 1987 by a small group of volunteers wishing to preserve Ontario's rich bushplane and fire-fighting heritage. The Ministry of Natural Resources allowed the group to use a portion of the Aviation Division's hangar at the edge of the St. Mary's River in Sault Ste. Marie for displays and storage. When the Air Division moved in 1991 to a new hangar at the airport, the existing hangar was turned over to the CBHC. It is a most historic structure, dating back to the days of the Ontario Provincial Air Service, from where all the OPAS Otters operated over the years. Over the years, the CBHC have built up an impressive collection of aircraft, which are on display at the hangar. These include a Beaver, Grumman Tracker, de Havilland Rapide, Canadair CL215, Norseman, Husky and many more, which now share the hangar with the Otter. A decision was made by the Ministry to allow the CBHC to rebuild the Otter and to retain it as part of their collection, although C-FODU remains registered to the Ministry. CBHC volunteers went to work and gradually restored the Otter to flying condition. They were helped in their task by being able to use the wings of Otter CF-ODT (218), which had been salvaged and repaired after its crash in June 1961 but whose wings had been stored in the hangar ever since then. By the end of the year 2000 Otter C-FODU was “close to being fully restored to flying condition”, according to the CBHC website. As of summer 2004, it remained a static exhibit in the museum.
At a ceremony held on 15 December 2005 at Sault Ste. Marie the Otter was formally handed over by the Government of Ontario to the Heritage Centre. On 8 January 2008 C-FODU was registered to the Ontario Bushplane Heritage & Forest Fire Educational Centre, Sault Ste. Marie and it continues as a static exhibit.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005)