Otter 397 was delivered to the Royal Norwegian Air Force on 16 November 1960 with serial 60-397, taken from its year of delivery and construction number. It was crated at Downsview and shipped to Norway (along with 395), arriving in Oslo Harbour 12 December 1960. It was taken to Fornebu Airport, Oslo on 19 December, where it was re-assembled by Widerøe Flyverksted, and was then accepted by the Royal Norwegian Air Force at Kjeller Air Force Base (AFB). It was assigned to Rygge AFB in February 1961 and then to 7193 Stotteving (7193 Support Flight) code O-AI at Bodø AFB., in northern Norway with effect from 6 April 1961, where it served alongside 395. It flew on amphibious floats. In September 1962 it returned to Widerøe's at Oslo for depot maintenance and returned to Bodø 11 December 1962.
397 again flew south to Wideroes in Oslo for maintenance on 5 June 1964, returning to Bodo 21 August 1964. On 1 January 1966 number 719 Squadron was officially established at Bodø, taking over from the Support Flight. On 9 August 1966 the Otter went to Kjeller AFB for maintenance, returning to 719 Squadron, Bodø on 30 September 1966. On 6 December 1966 it made its first flight with its new squadron code of XJ-W. It continued flying for 719 Squadron, supporting the base at Bodø and its resident fighter aircraft, until arriving at Kjeller AFB 3 October 1967 at the end of its military career. On 15 November 1967 it was flown from Kjeller AFB to Vaernes and was formally struck off charge that day, having flown 2,766 hours in military service. It was put into storage at Vaernes and handed over to Halle & Peterson, DHC’s representatives in Norway for disposal.
By Bill of Sale 9 May 1968 the Otter was sold by DHC to Ocean Products A/S., a seafood company. On 13 August 1968 it was inspected by the Norwegian CAA at Sandviken Sea Plane Base, Bergen and was registered LN-TSC on 24 August 1968 to Ocean Products A/S. It was put on straight floats for operation by Westwing A/S., of Bergen, a subsidiary of Ocean Products A/S. It retained its military colour scheme of silver and day-glo but acquired small Westwing titles on the tail. It was used for charter flights, passenger, cargo and mail out of Bergen. It replaced Westwing’s first Otter LN-BFD (199) which had been lost in a tragic accident on 31 August 1968. LN-TSC continued in service out of Bergen until the registration was cancelled on 12 February 1970 on sale of the Otter to Canada.
The buyer of the Otter was Bradley Air Services of Carp, Ontario to whom the Otter was provisionally registered CF-QEI. On 16 February 1970 it flew from Fornebu Airport, Oslo direct to Shannon, on its delivery flight. It was on wheels and still in its Royal Norwegian Air Force colours. It departed from Shannon for Reykjavik and onwards via Greenland. On arrival at Carp it was repainted in Bradley Air Services colours of white fuselage, green cheatline and orange tail and wingtips and overhauled. It was officially registered to Bradley Air Services on 9 July 1970 and entered service as part of its fleet of Otters, serving remote parts of northern Canada. During 1972 it was leased to Austin Airways and flown in the bush country of northern Ontario.
Its operations during September 1972 have been recorded, when it was mostly based at Albany, and flew to such places as Attawapiskat, Kashechewan, Rupert House, Paint Hills and Fort George. There were also charters with goose hunters to Hannah Bay and Cabbage Willows and it was also used on the East Coast and West Coast schedules on James Bay. Following the Austin Airways lease, QEI rejoined the Bradley Air Services fleet. It flew in support of the Polar Continental Shelf Project, which Bradley had the contract to support. This tasking took it to the High Arctic during the mid 1970s and a few incidents are recorded. On 27 April 1974 at Norfolk Inlet, Northwest Territories (NWT) it was damaged on take-off due to improper compensation for wind conditions. It did not have sufficient take-off surface to clear a rise in the terrain during an overshoot in gusty wind conditions. It turned into wind violently at lift-off, descended rapidly, struck the ice and slid, folding the right gear and damaging the wing. Bradley flew in a repair team on one of their Twin Otters. They erected an A-Frame to hoist up the damaged Otter and the repairs took six weeks. It was then flown to Resolute Bay and onwards via Churchill back to base at Carp.
It had no sooner been repaired and put back into service when some two months later, on 7 July 1974 at Fort Conger, Ellesmere island, NWT it repeated the performance, colliding with an earth bank on take off. It suffered further damage on 16 July 1976 at Cornwallis Island, NWT in the course of an overshoot from an aborted landing. The engine momentarily sputtered and backfired (probably as a result of opening the throttle too rapidly), reducing the aircraft’s climb performance. The right gear struck a ridge and was damaged. The pilot decided to fly back to the main base, where the right gear collapsed on landing. The damage was repaired.
The following year, as Bradley was disposing of the last of its single Otters, QEI was sold to Island Airlines Ltd., of Campbell River, BC to whom it was registered on 21 June 1977. It joined a fleet of five Beavers, two Fairchild Huskies, a Beech 18, a Grumman Goose, Islander and some Cessna 185s. It was painted into the Island Air colour scheme, retaining the style of the Bradley cheatline, which was painted orange instead of green and Island Airlines titles and logo were applied. QEI was Island Airlines only Otter and was configured to carry ten passengers. It was used on a three times a day schedule between Campbell River and Vancouver Harbour on floats. “That poor Otter would be in the hangar every week for inspection because it was just running constantly”. When the company’s competitor at the Campbell River Spit, Gulf Air, acquired a DHC-6 Twin Otter, Island Air decided they would have to get one as well and in August 1979 bought DHC-6 CF-OEQ, which replaced the single Otter QEI on the scheduled services, leaving QEI available for charters.
Island Airlines was taken over by Air BC, to whom QEI was registered on 1 December 1980. Unlike other single Otters which Air BC acquired, QEI was not painted into Air BC colours and by May 1981 was at Campbell River, out of service, with all titles removed and for sale. The following year it was acquired by CoValAir Ltd., who took over the facilities and aircraft of Air BC at Campbell River, when Air BC belatedly decided that bush operations were not for them. QEI was painted into CoValAir’s blue and white colour scheme and commenced service out of Campbell River for summer 1982. According to the company’s publicity, it was “serving more scheduled points than any other airline in Canada – 160”. These were along the coast of Vancouver Island and the BC mainland Pacific Coast. The company also flew adventure tours and sight-seeing tours.
QEI was CoVal’s first Otter and was soon joined by C-FXRI (258), flying alongside three Beavers and three Cessna 185s. By that stage CoVal was the dominant airline at Campbell River, flying the scheduled services to the many small communities of the region, as well as charters. The Otter fleet continued to expand until it reached five units in the early summer of 1985 (APQ/MPX/QEI/XRI/LCP) until reducing later that summer to three aircraft (APQ/QEI/LCP) which would continue in service for several years. Of all the Otters flown by CoVal QEI was unique in receiving a modification, which was an additional rear passenger window on both sides of the cabin.
QEI experienced a few incidents with CoValAir. On 4 November 1982 while in the cruise the engine began to run rough and lose power. A successful forced landing was carried out at Elk Bay. It was noted around this time in a revised colour scheme featuring a white fuselage with a yellow cheatline outlined in black, which ran down the fuselage and swept up the tail. On 6 November 1988 the pilot landed the Otter on the river at Kingcome Inlet and shut the engine down as he approached the ramp. The current carried the Otter into a collision with the ramp. QEI was brought back to Campbell River but was not put back into service at that time and lay at Campbell River out of service for some years. The registration to CoValAir was cancelled 12 February 1993. A photograph of the Otter taken in September 1995 shows it parked up at Campbell River without its engine and devoid of titles. It was restored to flying condition and on 13 May 1996 registered to a company called island Commuter Ltd and operated out of Campbell River for summer 1996, before rejoining the CoVal fleet, but again parked out of service at Campbell River.
By that stage the fortunes of CoValAir were in decline and the company ceased trading early in 1977, its three Otters parked at Campbell River awaiting disposal. QEI was sold in June 1997 to La Ronge Aviation Services of La Ronge, Saskatchewan and headed east to its new base, its long period of service along the Pacific Coast over, at least for the time being. With La Ronge Aviation Services it replaced Otter C-FBEO (373) which had just been sold. An incident was recorded with QEI on 1 August 1998 when the Otter was en route to a fishing lodge with a cargo of propane. The pilot reported engine power loss and force landed on Anson Lake, Manitoba which he was overflying at the time. Maintenance inspection revealed that the number five cylinder valve had failed.
QEI continued in service with La Ronge Aviation Services after it had been re-branded as Air Sask. On 18 July 1999 QEI took off from the water base at La Ronge with a canoe strapped to one of its floats. It took off in a southerly direction and then, at low altitude, commenced a 270 degree turn to the left, passed over a small island and then head over the town of La Ronge in a northwesterly direction at 300 feet. Unfortunately all this was witnessed by two Transport Canada inspectors who were on surveillance duties, and who were at the time seated on a park bench overlooking the water base. The pilot was subsequently fined $250 for his exceptionally low overflight of La Ronge town.
When Air Sask merged with Athabaska Airways to form Transwest Air, which had its own pair of turbine Otters, QEI was no longer required and was put up for sale. It was sold to Air Nootka Ltd., of Gold River, BC to whom it was registered on 2 August 2000. Gold River is on Vancouver Island, not all that far from Campbell River, so QEI was back serving the Pacific coast again. At the time Air Nootka had two Beavers, one of which was replaced with the Otter. QEI flew for some time in CoVal scheme with Air Nootka titles, before being repainted into Air Nootka’s own scheme in spring 2003. Air Nootka used the Otter for charter work, particularly during the summer months. It was often used to move groups of nature tourists to the isolated Nootka Island Nature Park, which was 45 minutes flying time from Gold River. The Otter flew for Air Nootka for four years, until it was badly damaged in an accident at Louie Lagoon on Vancouver Island on 4 August 2005.
The Otter, with nine souls on board, suffered engine failure and was attempting a water landing on the lagoon when it hit a sandbar and overturned. The eight hikers were uninjured while the pilot sustained a gash to his forehead that required a few stitches. Campers and staff from Esperanza, a Christian ministry / bible camp near Zeballos, who were camping near Ferrer Point, watched the Otter go down while they were canoeing in the Bay and raised the alarm. 442 Squadron at CFB Comox launched a Buffalo aircraft and Cormorant helicopter, but the rescue was called off when the RCC was advised that everyone was safely ashore and that Air Nootka was sending its own aircraft to return them to Gold River. The Esperanza people assisted in ferrying passengers from the upturned Otter to the shore and in administering first aid to the pilot.
On Saturday 6 August 2005 Otter QEI was airlifted from the crash site by Hayes Heli Logging S-61N helicopter C-FHHM and carried as an underslung load to Zeballos. From there it was trucked to Sealand Aviation at Campbell River, to await a decision on its fate. Photographs showed considerable damage to the floats and to the underside of the fuselage. It became the property of the insurance company, who offered it for sale. It was trucked to Victoria, BC where it remained for a time with Victoria Air Maintenance. The wrecked Otter was sold to a Mr Urs Wamister of Switzerland, whose “day job” was as an Airbus A330/340 captain with Swiss Airlines but who intended to rebuild the Otter as a private venture. On 17 January 2006 the Canadian registration was cancelled and the Otter was loaded into a container at Victoria. It was taken to Vancouver and then right across the country by rail to Montreal. From there it was shipped to Europe and taken by truck to Hereg in Hungary for rebuild.
Located at Hereg was the aircraft restoration shop of Karl Birczak. At that stage the shop was working on the restoration of a Junkers Ju88 of the Luftwaffe for the Norwegian Aviation Museum, the bomber having crashed in Norway during the War. Clearly this shop had experience of dealing with unusual aircraft types, and set to work repairing the structural damage to the Otter. On 15 August 2007 C-FQEI was deleted from the Canadian Civil Aircraft Register as “exported to Switzerland”. The structural repair work was not completed in Hungary until January 2008 and the following month the Otter was trucked to the Altenrhein-St.Gallen Airport, Switzerland, where the re-building of the Otter was to be completed by Altenrhein Aviation. This company had considerable experience of overhauling, repairing and rebuilding DHC-6 Twin Otters, but 397 was the first single Otter they had worked on.
At Altenrhein a PT-6A-34 turboprop engine was installed in February 2008, as well as all new electrics, avionics and interior. Work continued during the following months to complete the rebuilding of the Otter, which also received a STOL-kit and was put on Wipaire 8000 amphibious floats. It was painted gloss white and registered HB-TCM to Urs Wamister of Berg am Irchel, Switzerland on 16 July 2008. It made its first post-restoration test flight three days later from Altenrhein. In the weeks that followed, many more flights were made, including a landing on Lake Zurich on 30 July 2008. The Otter remained based at Altenrhein during August and September, making a visit to Salzburg.
With his Vazar Turbine Otter now fully operational, the owner arranged a lease of the aircraft to a new “start-up” small airline in Greece, called Argo Airways. The Otter, still registered HB-TCM and on amphibious floats, was flown south and arrived on 1 October 2008 at Anchialos Airport, near the city of Volos on the east coast of Greece, its new base. The Swiss registration was cancelled on 13 October 2008 and the Otter registered as SX-ARO to Argo Airways. It was the very first Otter to be registered in Greece and also the first (and as it would turn out the only) aircraft to be operated by Argo Airways. As of 13 October 2008, total time on the Otter was 19,578 hours.
On its website the airline offered harbour to harbour scheduled services from its base at Volos to Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonnisos which were islands in the Aegean Sea, as well as services from Volos to the major cities of Thessalonika and Athens and also a charter service with the Otter. Unfortunately however Argo Airways was not in a position to actually provide any of these flights as it did not have an Air Operators Certificate (AOC) and so the Otter remained parked at Volos over the winter of 2008 / 2009, while efforts were made to procure the all-important AOC from the Greek government. Despite having invested 1.85 million euro in its enterprise and employing twenty staff, bureaucratic delays meant that the AOC still had not issued in time for a start up for summer 2009. The situation must indeed have been bleak and the owner despairing, as in May 2009 the Otter was offered for sale through the agency of Victoria Air Maintenance of Sidney, BC. It was only when Argo Airways threatened to pull out of Greece that the AOC was belatedly issued in July 2009. Even then the airline could not commence operations as its base at Volos also needed a licence for use by seaplanes, and this had not issued.
In the meantime, Otter SX-ARO flown by its Swiss owner had returned to Switzerland by July 2009, to await developments. In the early part of July it was based at Salzburg, Austria sporting “Scalaria Air Challenge” titles. This is an annual “aeroboat” event, a type of airshow, held at St.Wolfgang am Wolfgangsee in Austria, where the Otter was in operation on the lake alongside several Beavers, Cessna floatplanes, a PBY and a Dornier Do 24. Also taking part in the event were the Red Bull B-25 and DC-6B. After the event the Otter returned to Altenrhein where it was parked for the rest of July, August and most of September 2009, sporting Argo Airways titles. The Otter was noted at Naples, Italy on 28 September 2009 on its way back to its base at Volos.
Argo Airways eventually overcame all the licensing difficulties and started operations on 22 October 2009. Initial operations comprised the following:
Volos-Skiathos depart 08:00 arrive 08:20
Skiathos-Volos depart 09:00 arrive 09:20
Volos-Skiathos depart 15:40 arrive 16:00
Skiathos-Volos depart 16:30 arrive 16:50
Operations continued during November and December 2009. In mid January 2010 the company began operating twice weekly from Volos to Thessalonika and once weekly between Volos and Athens. The company announced plans to make Thessalonika a hub, with future destinations to include other Aegean islands as well as points in the Balkans. According to the company website, frequency on the Volos to Thessalonika had risen to four per week and there was a Saturday and Sunday service between Skiathos and Thessalonika. It appears however that all was not well with the operation, which came to an end in February 2010 when the Otter was repossessed by Mr Wamister after lease payments were not met. At that stage Argo Airways ceased operations. Mr Wamister retained the Otter on the Greek register and it still sported Argo Airways titles, although no longer operated by that company, which was then defunct. It was advertised for sale that month, February 2010, with an asking price of $2,200,000, subsequently reduced to $1,650,000 but did not sell.
SX-ARO was next noted attending the Aero Friedrickshafen airshow in southern Germany over the weekend of 9/11 April 2010, carrying small ‘for sale’ notices. Its next appearance was at the 13e Rassemblement International d’Hydravion de Biscarosse, a French seaplane meeting held at Biscarosse/Parentis Seaplane Base on the Bay of Biscay coast of western France in mid May. The owner had brought the Otter here to offer seaplane rides to the public, to make some money towards recouping his substantial investment in the Otter, particularly given the collapse of the Argo Airways venture. Dozens of pleasure flights were given over the four days of the event.
On the evening of Sunday 16 May 2010, on what was planned as the last flight of the day, the Otter which was still on its amphibious floats flew to the nearby airstrip at Arcachon to refuel. It took off from the airstrip with nine passengers on board and returned to the seaplane base to drop off the passengers. On alighting on the water at the Parentis Seaplane Base, unfortunately with its wheels still extended, the Otter nosed over and came to rest upside down. The landing sequence had been filmed by spectators at the event and became quite a ‘hit’ on You Tube! There were no injuries and rescue boats were at the scene within seconds and took off the occupants. SX-ARO however had received a severe impact and was upside down in the water, with its engine and cockpit section submerged.
That most unfortunate accident evidently brought Mr Wamister’s Otter operating days to an end, and it was decided to sell the Otter “as is, where is” at the best price obtainable. In July 2010 the following advertisement appeared by Andre Cantin / Thabet Aero brokers of Quebec: “Damaged 1960 turbine Otter for sale to highest bidder. The aircraft is located in Europe ready to be inspected. Starting bid at US$500,000. Last day of biding 23 July 2010. The aircraft had a complete overhaul two years ago with Vazar modification, with a brand new PT6-34 engine. All electrical wiring change, new cables and pulleys, new avionics, new interior, Baron STOL, Wipaire 8000 amphibious floats. The Otter was damaged after a wheels down water landing”.
This sales campaign proved successful and the Otter was sold to Dan Gilbertson, an aircraft broker and lessor, from Fairbanks, Alaska. He arranged with Victoria Air Maintenance to retrieve the Otter from France and repair it. They sent a crew to Biscarosse, who disassembled the damaged Otter and packed it into a crate and it was shipped back to Victoria, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. On 9 December 2010, after work had started on the repair at Victoria, the Otter was re-registered N113DG to Aircraft Marketing & Leasing LLC., of Fairbanks, Dan Gilbertson’s company.
Work on the Otter continued at Victoria during the early months of 2011 and was quite extensive. Structural repairs had to be carried out to the bulkhead behind the cockpit and to the side of the fuselage. The cowling had been badly dented and there was much damage to the floats and float attachments. All of the avionics and instruments had to be replaced. The work involved a total repair overhaul and rebuild and was finished early April 2011. The Otter was painted white overall, registration N113DG applied to the rear fuselage and ‘De Havilland Turbo Otter’ painted on the nose. Victoria Air Maintenance’s work on the Otter was described in detail on its website. The Otter was then parked at Victoria and advertised as available for lease from 1 May 2011.
A lease of the Otter was arranged with Ookpik Aviation of Baker Lake, Nunavut. N113DG, still painted all white but now on wheel-skis departed from Victoria BC on 27 May 2011 for the long cross-country flight to Baker Lake where it arrived four days later. Its arrival there on 31 May was by all accounts a spectacular affair. The Otter landed on runway 34 at Baker Lake and exited the runway onto the taxiway. At this stage the pilot of AS350 Squirrel C-FXOX of Forest Helicopters received his airport advisory, lifted off, made a right hand turn 270 degrees and accelerated down the taxiway towards the west, directly at the Otter. The Otter pilot applied full reverse and at the same time the helicopter pilot saw the Otter and made an emergency turn and manoeuvred clear of the Otter. As the subsequent report puts it: “During this evasive action there was considerable debris, rocks and dust blown towards the Otter, although there was no damage”. It was quite a dramatic arrival nonetheless!
It had been intended that N113DG would enter service with Ookpik Aviation alongside its own hard-working turbine Otter C-FPEN (439). However paperwork problems evidently delayed N113DG’s entry into service with Oookpik Aviation and in mid August 2011 it was still tied down in outside storage at Baker Lake, waiting to commence flying. Its period of use with Ookpik Aviation appears to have been brief, as after another lengthy cross-country ferry flight N113DH arrived at Langley, BC before Christmas 2011 where it was to remain parked for some months, awaiting its next assignment.
In mid May 2012 the Otter was ferried to Alaska for a contract, and by 25 May had arrived at Talkeetna where it went on lease to Fly Denali Inc. It retained its all white colour scheme, with Fly Denali titles on the tail and was on wheel skis. The company offered flight-seeing tours, air taxi service and glacier landings from bases at Talkeetna and Denali National Park. The Otter joined the company’s fleet of two turbo Beavers and was known as the “Delta Ghost” in view of its white colour. The demand for such services was evidently high, as Fly Denali joined K2 Aviation and Talkeetna Air in offering such services from Talkeetna to the nearby mountain ranges. In June 2012 N113DG was operating out of Healy, Alaska. The lease came to an end after the summer 2012 season and N113DG was again advertised as available for lease by its owner. In May 2013 it again went on lease to Fly Denali, same type of operations, based out of Talkeetna for summer 2013. In March 2014 the Otter was again advertised for lease by its owner, the advert stating that the aircraft was at Talkeetna and ready for lease from 1 May 2014. A new lessee was found for summer 2014 and N113DG flew for Talkeetna Air Taxi, same type of operation as before. One difference was that it acquired a red/blue diagonal stripe painted across the fuselage, to make it more visible on the glaciers. The lease came to an end at the end of the summer 2014 season, and N113DG was flown to Vancouver and was for sale. A buyer was found, and no longer would it operate in the frozen wastes of Alaska but would be heading for the tropical paradise of Fiji.
Registration N113DG was cancelled from the FAA Register on 9 March 2015 “on export to Fiji”, although the aircraft was then sitting in Vancouver. The Canadian Register then showed serial 397 “imported to Canada from Fiji” 22 April 2015, with again the aircraft still at Vancouver. It was registered C-FKPU on 11 May 2015 to John Hill, 5400 Airport Road, Richmond, BC., this being the address of John Hill’s company Aeroflite Industries, noted for its work on many Otters over the years. The purpose of all this was so that Aeroflite Industries could do work on the Otter which was required for its export to Fiji. The Canadian registration was cancelled 15 June 2015 “on export to Fiji” and the Otter was put into a crate and shipped to Fiji. The journey took a time as did the re-assembly of the Otter when it got there, but in January 2016 the Otter was registered DQ-SEA to Pacific Island Air of Nadi, Fiji and it entered service alongside the company’s existing turbine Otter DQ-PIA (115). Both Otters are painted in full Pacific Island Air colour scheme and are used to carry guests to and from hotels and resorts on outlying islands, and for flight-seeing tours.
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.