Otter 181 was delivered to Taxi Air Group Inc. of Detroit, Michigan on 16th November 1956, registered N98T. It joined the company's existing Otter N96T (110) which had been delivered the previous April and as explained in relation to N96T, the two Otters established a unique city-to-city commuter service between Detroit and Cleveland during the summer months. During the winter, they moved south to Florida, flying scheduled services out of Miami. These services were discontinued after the winter of 1957/58 and both Otters were sold. N98T had actually first been registered to TAG Airlines Inc. and then to Aviation Equipment Company of Toledo, Ohio all part of Taxi Air Group. The Otter was sold on 30th April 1958 to Mr. Vernon J. Peck of Saratoga, Florida. Mr. Peck also had an address in Anchorage, Alaska and the Otter was used to commute to Alaska. It encountered some difficulty returning from Alaska on 1st September 1958, as the following extract from the West Coast SAR file explains:
“Air Traffic Control advised the Rescue Co-Ordination Centre on an overdue American civil Otter on floats. N98T had airfiled its flight plan over Annette, Alaska on 31st August at time 1708Z, bound for Seattle, estimated time en route five hours, with seven hours’ fuel. There was a general broadcast to all shipping in the area for possible sightings after the Otter became overdue. Two US Coast Guard UF-2 Albatross aircraft and a cutter from the Coast Guard station at Annette commenced a search. They were joined by Canso 041 of the RCAF's 121 Rescue Squadron, which joined the search at first light on 1st September. Poor weather hampered the search, which was stood down when N98T contacted Port Hardy radio at 1730 hours and advised that engine trouble had forced a landing south of Annette”. The trouble was repaired and the Otter continued on its way.
N98T underwent major repairs/alterations at Oakland Airport, San Francisco in April 1959 and again in March 1960, when avionics were installed by Bayaire Avionics Inc. On 24th January 1961 the Otter was sold to Sea Airmotive Inc. (Seair) of Anchorage, Alaska with whom it was to serve for thirteen years. It was to suffer quite a few mishaps while flying in the demanding Alaskan environment. The first of these occurred on 17th January 1967 when the Otter was taking off from Anchorage. As the accident report states: “Failed to obtain/maintain flying speed; all ice and frost not removed from wings prior to take-off; aircraft 318 pounds over max gross weight”. The Otter stalled immediately after take-off and although the pilot, the only occupant, was uninjured, substantial damage was caused. It was repaired and N98T returned to service with Seair.
Its next incident took place at Port Moller, Alaska on 10th March 1969, again a stall just after take- off, again causing substantial damage. On this occasion the pilot had eight passengers on board, and was attempting to take off from a rough/uneven strip only 900 feet long. According to the report, the accident was caused by the pilot “failing to obtain/maintain flying speed”, having selected unsuitable terrain for take-off. No one was injured. The Otter was transported to Field Aviation in Calgary for repair. After a few years of accident-free operation, N98T was again substantially damaged at Eek, Alaska on 2nd November 1973, on this occasion while landing. The Otter, with only the pilot on board, had departed from Bethel on a cargo flight and was landing at Eek in a crosswind, which was gusting to 15 knots. The Otter slid off the muddy runway and the gear collapsed. Again it was repaired and restored to service.
Its next incident took place on 6th August 1974. The Otter had arrived at Bethel from Napaskiak and was taking off from Bethel when the accident occurred. The aircraft was on a mail flight and was 32 pounds over gross weight and loaded two and a half inches aft of the rear Centre of Gravity.
N98T stalled on take-off. Factors referred to in the report included inadequate pre-flight planning and preparation; improperly loaded aircraft and delayed action in aborting the take-off. That accident marked the end of the aircraft's career with Seair, who on 20th December 1974 sold it back to Mr. Richard V. Peck. Repairs were carried out by Harold J. Hansen, who then used the Otter in the repair of another DHC-3. N90575 of Frontier Flying Service crashed on take-off from the Kuskokwim River en route to Lake Minchumina on 23rd September 1975. A replacement set of wings were flown in to the crash site strapped to the outside of N98T. On 9th March 1977, Richard V. Peck sold N98T to Peninsula Airways Inc. of Anchorage, and the Otter resumed its airline service to the Alaskan bush.
After more than four years of incident-free operation, N98T came a nasty cropper at South Naknek, Alaska on 4th July 1981. The accident report remarks that “due to the seat configuration, the pilot was unable to apply full right rudder and right brake simultaneously”. The Otter swerved off the runway on take-off and crashed into the tundra. The pilot, the only occupant, was uninjured but the damage on this occasion was so substantial that the Otter had to be trucked to Harold Hansen's facility in Seattle for repair. That accident also marked the end of N98T's career with Peninsula Airways, who sold the damaged Otter to Harold Hansen on 23rd November 1981. The Otter was rebuilt by Mr. Hansen at Boeing Field over the next five years. As repairs neared completion, on 31st January 1985 the Otter was registered to Foreign & Domestic Enterprises Inc., Perimeter Road, Boeing Field who ran a repair shop adjoining Mr. Hansen's facility. On 1st August 1986 N98T was sold to Aeronautical Services Inc., based at Friday Harbour in the San Juan Islands, not far from Seattle. Here it joined Otters N2634Y (59) and N357AS (357).
For the next seven years, N98T flew freight around the picturesque San Juan Islands, with occasional deployments to the Aeronautical Services Long Beach, California base, from where freight was flown to Catalina Island. Over the years, the loads out of Long Beach grew to such an extent that a larger aircraft was required. Accordingly, in 1993, as part of a larger deal, Otter N98T was exchanged for a Douglas C-47, which then flew the freight from Long beach to Catalina Island alongside a fleet of Beech 18s, and Aeronautical Services two remaining Otters N2634Y and N357AS serviced the San Juan Islands.
Otter N98T returned to Alaska and was sold on 3rd March 1993 to Ketchikan Air Service Inc. who operated the Otter, on floats, out of Ketchikan. Sadly, to relate, and having overcome so much in the past, the Otter was not to last too much longer. On 10th November 1993, N98T was returning to its base at Ketchikan from Thorne Bay, where it had been on maintenance. There were three souls on board. The engine lost power five minutes after take-off from Thorne Bay, necessitating an emergency landing three miles south of Tolstoi Point. During the landing, a control wire snapped, forcing the aircraft's nose into the water.
The Otter continued to float nose down until heavy swells caused it to flip over. The three on board clambered onto the floats, where they were sitting for twenty minutes before being rescued by a Coast Guard cutter. All three were wearing life jackets and were suffering from minor hypothermia. Interestingly, the Otter came down not far from where it had made the forced landing due engine failure en route from Anchorage to Seattle in August 1958, as referred to above. On this occasion however its luck was out, and it sank to the bottom of the sea.
Although it was later retrieved from the watery depths. Registration N98T was never cancelled but was shown on the FAA register for many years as “sale pending”. On 15 February 2013 N98T was registered to Douglas G. Solberg of Juneau, Alaska and it is understood to be a restoration project.
Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).