Otter 135 was delivered to Wheeler Airlines Ltd., of St. Jovite, Québec on 22nd June 1956 registered CF-IUZ. Originally known as Gray Rocks Air Service, this company was founded by Tom Wheeler in 1921. Its purpose was to provide air access to distant trout lakes from the shore of Lac Quimet near St. Jovite, some 85 miles north of Montréal. Lac Quimet is one of many lakes in the Mont Tremblant Provincial Park region of the Laurentian Mountains, an area well known for its excellent hunting and fishing. As well as serving this region, flights were made as far afield as James Bay, where a permanent goose-hunting camp was established. At St. Jovite, a three thousand foot airstrip was located, with hangarage and airport facilities, and a seaplane dock on the adjacent Lac Quimet. New work was added such as fire patrols, fish planting to re-stock lakes and aerial photography. Gradually Wheeler Airlines, as the company was re-named, developed into providing a full range of bush flying services. After the second World War came the main growth, with a change in emphasis from a Québec bush airline to a large-scale carrier of freight and passengers, with wide experience of Arctic flying. By 1957 the airline was organised into four divisions: (1) the Transport Division, which operated the heavy transport aircraft, the DC-3, DC-4 and C-46, based at Montreal-Dorval (2) the Bush Division, which operated the Norseman, Beaver, Otter and Anson, based at St. Jovite (3) the Spray Division, responsible for agricultural and forestry work with a fleet of Stearmans and (4) the Helicopter Division. Wheeler Airlines was a major participant in the construction projects of the Mid Canada, Pinetree and DEW Line radar chains during the mid to late 1950s and by 1958, Wheeler Airlines became responsible for providing all fixed wing air transport for the re-supply of the Eastern Sector. Five Otters were operated during the 1956/1959 period, some bought and some leased, these being GCV (2), EYY (19), IUR (102), IUZ (135) and JZN (205). The Otters were used both in the Arctic, on the DEW Line contract, and with the Bush Division in Québec.
In the DEW Line support, the Otters worked in conjunction with the company's larger aircraft. The DC-4s flew regular flights from Montréal north to Frobisher Bay and the Otters then flew out from Frobisher to the radar site on Resolution Island and other sites, bringing personnel and supplies which had been flown in by the DC-4. The DC-4s were based at Dorval where the company's hangar stored the DEW Line freight. Wheeler Airlines also maintained permanent bases at Val d'Or, Great Whale River on Hudson Bay, Frobisher Bay, Foxe Island and Goose Bay. Its aircraft also flew ice reconnaissance and weather station servicing and there was a scheduled DC-3 service between Val d'Or and Great Whale. Wheeler Airlines diverse fleet in 1958, as well as the Otters, comprised three DC-4s, two C-46s, four DC-3s, two PBYs, one Beech 18, three Beavers, three Norsemen, one Cessna 180, seven Grumman Avengers, six Stearman biplanes, two S-55 and three S-51 helicopters.
Otter IUR was lost in June 1958 and the following year EYY left the fleet and went to Austin Airways. The other three Otters, GCV, IUZ and JZN continued flying for Wheeler Airlines. There was a major re-organisation on the company in April 1960 when the heavy transport division and all the large aircraft were sold to Nordair. The company was re-constituted as Wheeler Airlines (1960) Ltd and continued with its bush operations, both in Québec and in the Arctic where the Otters continued with the DEW-Line support.
Otter CF-IUZ initially served in Québec. At St. Jovite, hunting and fishing trips, fire patrols, survey and exploration work, sightseeing flights, fish-planting in small lakes and general charter work formed the major part of the day-to-day operations. The Otter was substantially damaged in an accident at St. Simeon, Québec on 13th May 1960, when the pilot attempted to make a precautionary landing on the north bank of the St. Lawrence River in deteriorating weather conditions. The flight had taken off from Sept Îles, Québec at 15:47 hours that day with the pilot and three passengers on board on a VFR flight to Baie Comeau but having obtained further weather information en route, a revised VFR plan to Montreal was filed. The weather was expected to remain above VFR en route, but ceiling and visibility would deteriorate occasionally to 500 to 1,000 feet and one to three miles in low stratus, fog and thundershowers. About 32 miles northwest of Québec City, the weather deteriorated below minimums for VFR flight and the pilot decided to divert to Forestville. However, shortly after he made this decision, he received weather reports from Québec Radio which indicated a general deterioration along the St. Lawrence River. In addition, he realised that he would be unable to reach Forestville before dark. The pilot therefore elected to make a precautionary landing on the north bank of the river. As the Otter touched down, the right undercarriage struck a mound of earth and broke off, and the aircraft came to rest on its left wheel and right wing tip. The accident report concluded that the pilot “selected unsuitable terrain for a precautionary landing in conditions of low ceiling and approaching darkness”.
CF-IUZ was repaired and returned to service. The following year, it was based at Frobisher Bay, flying on the contract which the company had re-supplying the DEW Line station on Resolution Island. The Otter was involved in the rescue of the crew of a downed USAF C-47, which was used by DHC in its publicity material for the Otter's STOL capabilities. Beneath a dramatic drawing of CF- IUZ lifting off, with the downed C-47 in the background, the text of the advertisement proclaimed: “Mid winter 1961. A USAF crew has crash landed a C-47 on sea ice in the Hudson Strait off Resolution Island. Their may-day call is picked up 200 miles away by pilot Kenneth Dempster of Wheeler Airlines. The light is failing as he lands at the scene. There is insufficient space for a normal take-off. With 14 people and equipment aboard his DHC-3, Dempster starts his take-off downwind, hits an ice hummock, swings his overloaded plane into wind and succeeds in achieving an amazing take-off under extremely difficult circumstances. Back at Resolution airstrip, Dempster sets the crippled craft down with its landing gear damaged without further mishap. For distinguished conduct, heroism and exceptional judgement, pilot Kenneth D. Dempster was awarded the United States Air Force Exceptional Service Award”.
This incident took place on 18th January 1961 and involved USAF C-47 tail number 77291, which was attached to the 59th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Goose Bay, and which on the day in question was on a flight from Frobisher Bay to Goose Bay when it lost an engine. It was making for the Resolution Island radar site, which has a 1,500 foot airstrip, but had to make a forced landing three miles short of the runway. Temperature at the time was eight degrees below zero, visibility ten miles with scattered cloud. Douglas SC-54 72703 of the 48th Air Rescue Squadron at Goose Bay was despatched to Frobisher Bay with para-rescue personnel, who would jump to the accident scene. However, as the accident report states: “A Wheeler Otter from Frobisher Bay with Kenneth Dempster as pilot took off from Frobisher and landed at Resolution Island about dusk. All the passengers plus crew of the C-47 were loaded on board the Otter which after three attempts finally took off, but hit an ice hummock and the undercarriage was damaged. The Otter landed all on board at the Radar site. The reason given for putting all 12 persons on board was because of the darkness and the improbability of being able to return for the rest of the persons that night. From the facts available, the Wheeler pilot made a momentous decision when he carried twelve passengers in the Otter. An RCAF pilot who did this might be on the carpet for exposing the survivors to an even more disastrous calamity than the forced landing of the C-47”.
RCAF Otter 3681 (39) from Goose Bay was also involved in this rescue. It flew from Goose via Saglek to Frobisher Bay and then to Resolution Island to collect the C-47 passengers and crew. Because of bad weather and high winds, the transport of the survivors to Frobisher by the RCAF Otter was delayed until 25th January, the Otter being escorted by the SC-54. The damage to CF-IUZ was repaired and it continued to fly for Wheeler Airlines until 1967. It then went on contract to a survey company. It carried titles “AiResource Surveys Ltd. Operated by Wheeler Northland Airways Ltd”. This survey company was owned by Geoterrex Ltd., and Scintrex Ltd. The Otter was equipped for geophysical survey work, in the same way as Otter CF-IGM (75) already described. In 1970 the Otter was transferred to Scintrex Ltd., of Concord, Ontario and re-registered CF-IUZ-X and continued in use until 1975, when the survey equipment was removed. The Otter was returned to standard configuration and put up for sale.
The purchaser was Air Ray Inc., a bush operator of St. Ludger, Québec to whom the Otter was registered on 13th May 1977 as C-FIUZ. The following month, on 20th June 1977 at L'Ile Verte, Québec the Otter with two crew and eight passengers was on a VFR flight during which the pilot entered an area of fog and low stratus which, after a few miles, forced him to land on a road. During the approach, the right wheel was torn off by a telephone wire spanning the road. Another incident occurred on 3rd September 1979 at Lac Champdore, Québec, the Otter on this occasion being on amphibious floats. After take-off from a runway, the pilot, the only occupant, forgot to raise the wheels. On the subsequent touchdown on water, the aircraft turned over. That ended its career with Air Ray.
C-FIUZ was repaired over the winter and on 4th July 1980 was registered to Air Satellite Inc of Hauterive, Québec. For the next twenty years, it continued to serve in Québec, passing through a number of operators. It was registered to Aeropel Inc., Baie Comeau on 19th January 1982; to Labrador Air Safari Inc., Baie-Comeau on 18th May 1984; to Air Melancon Inc., St. Anne-du-Lac on 5th June 1984; to Bel Air Laurentien Aviation Inc., Lac-a-la-Tortue on 3rd January 1985 and to Air Roberval Ltée, Roberval on 14th May 1987. On 8th April 1998 while flying for Air Roberval on skis en route from Obedjiwan to Roberval, one of the skis became dislodged. An emergency was declared and the rescue services stood by but the Otter landed safely. It was sold to Air Bellevue Inc., of St. Felicien, to whom it was registered on 12th March 1999.
Having served the bush country of Québec for nearly 24 years, the Otter headed west for a new career on the Pacific coast. Air Bellevue's activities were winding down, and its two Otters IUZ and C-GVNL (105) were up for sale. Both were purchased by Harbour Air Ltd., of Vancouver. The two Otters set off together for the long cross-country ferry flight. They were flown as far as Calgary, Alberta by Air Bellevue pilots, arriving on 14th March 2001. They over-nighted at Calgary and continued on the next day to Vancouver, flown by Harbour Air pilots. Both Otters were registered to Harbour Air on 28th March 2001 and were converted to turbine power with PT-6 engines by Harbour Air in their Vancouver hangar. They were painted in Harbour Air colours and entered service as part of the company's large fleet of turbine Otters, on their scheduled passenger services between Vancouver and points on Vancouver Island.
IUZ was involved in a near miss with Helijet Sikorsky S-76A helicopter C-GHJP four nautical miles north-west of the Vancouver International Airport on 28th February 2004. To quote from the incident report: “The Otter, operating Harbour Air flight 135, was en route northbound over the Vancouver International Airport destined for Vancouver Harbour. The flight was in contact with the Vancouver Terminal Controller, was radar identified, and approved to proceed VFR at 3,500 feet. The S-76, operating as flight JBA 781, departed Vancouver Harbour under VFR conditions and contacted the same controller on the Vancouver departure frequency requesting an IFR clearance southbound at 4,000 feet and was cleared as requested. The Otter radar tag displayed an altitude of 3,800 feet when it was pointed out as traffic at 11 o'clock and two miles to JBA781, then climbing through 3,500 feet. Helijet 781 reported being in IMC. The Controller queried the Otter pilot about the altitude and was advised that a climb had been required to maintain VMC. An evasive turn to the right was directed by the controller to JBA781 but the crew established visual contact before the turn was made. Radar data showed that the two aircraft passed in opposite directions within 0.3 of a nautical mile and about 200 feet vertically”.
Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).