Otter 203 was registered to De Havilland Canada on 16th July 1957 as CF-JON. At one stage it had been intended for Pacific Western Airlines, and had been painted in their colours at Downsview, but that transaction did not proceed and JON was retained by DHC, configured as a wheel aircraft, to be used as a demonstrator. Towards the end of 1959, it went on a sales tour of South America, which was one region where the Otter did not sell very well at all. Only one civil aircraft went to Taxi Aereo de Santander in Colombia, two military sales to Argentina and five to Chile. The Colombian and the Chilean aircraft had already been delivered by the time JON set off on its sales tour of South America.
The sales tour did not, apparently, prove very successful, either from a sales or an operational viewpoint. In December 1959 JON suffered engine failure and force landed in a small field some eighty miles from Montevideo in Uruguay. A broken valve on the number three cylinder was to blame. A replacement engine was dispatched from Downsview and JON was repaired and flew home. By this stage it had 801 hours on the airframe and was put up for sale. It was sold to Thomas Lamb Airways Ltd (Lambair) of The Pas, Manitoba on 27th June 1960, as a floatplane.
CF-JON became Lambair's first Otter, and joined the company's six Cessna 180s and three Norsemen. That year, Lambair opened a base at Churchill, Manitoba and JON was soon at work. The following is a description of activity in August/September 1960: “Soon there was flying for Jack Lamb using the new Otter, starting with a type check-out. Then word came that Doug Lamb and Ron Davie had suffered float damage to a Norseman at Baker Lake. Jack and Ron Boyes now made the five-and-a-half-hour flight in the Otter from Thompson to Baker Lake. The mechanics set to work with repairs while Jack and Doug flew two hundred miles north in the Otter to Garry Lake. Next day the patched-up Norseman was flown 900 miles back to The Pas via Ilford”.
“Jack and Ray flew a party of geologists in the Otter in two trips from Garry Lake to Baker Lake, then left next morning for Churchill. There they readied the Otter for a 1,200-mile trip to Clyde River on Baffin Island, where a survey team needed their services. First stop en route was Rankin Inlet, where seventy gallons of fuel was pumped on board as the passengers ate in the Rankin nickel mine dining hall. Then it was off again. It was important to keep moving while the going was good. As Jack Lamb explained, standard procedure on any their flights was to complete a charter as fast as possible and get back to base for the next trip. We would only land for fuel and would only eat if convenient. On a long charter it was usual to finish the whole trip without stopping to sleep or eat a proper meal”.
“An hour south of Repulse Bay, Jack was able to raise both Churchill and The Pas on the HF radio. He then flew on for fuel at Repulse and Hall Beach. He crossed Foxe Basin to Baffin Island and followed a valley along the south edge on the Barnes Ice Cap to reach Clyde River about eight that evening. After off-loading passengers and freight and putting CF-JON to bed, they over-nighted at the Hudson Bay Company. They enjoyed a few shots of rum as they listened to tall tales in the Arctic. Next morning, they took off for home and found that the empty Otter cruised happily along burning twenty gallons per hour, compared to twenty-eight on the way up with a load. A tail wind helped them into Rankin Inlet in five and half hours, then they pushed on to Churchill, landing at sunset. It was mid-September when JON touched down at The Pas, Lambair's home base”.
After this epic trip, the Otter settled into routine service with Lambair and went on to serve the company faithfully for the next ten years. An extract from Douglas Lamb's diary reveals the sort of flying it had to perform in the Arctic, describing a charter carrying the Deputy Minister of Northern Affairs and his party, which started out using a Lambair Beech 18, which went unserviceable at Baker Lake, requiring Otter JON to fly to the rescue from its base at Churchill: “TransAir moved my Baker Lake passengers to Eskimo Point. I went back up in the Otter and moved everyone from Eskimo Point to Whale Cove. HF radio packed up. 05:00 the next morning, pulled out for Churchill. Put Otter in hangar, changed all tubes in radio. Next morning flew back to Whale Cove, arriving 10:00, still dark. Then Rankin Inlet where I sat for four days, finally away to Chesterfield Inlet. Rolled three drums of gas through the deep snow, pumped the gas into the Otter and took off for Coral Harbour. Ran out of daylight at Eli Bay. Lots of heavy winds, snow and dark. Got to Coral Harbour. Landed with runway strobe lights barely visible, blew tire on landing”.
“Got rid of passengers by sending them to Coral Harbour village twelve miles away. Took tire off. Got Bombardier tube, cut valve out and glued it to my tube and was ready to go next morning. Pulled out for Cape Dorset. Unable to land due to bad weather. Went to Igloolik via Hall Beach. Arrived Hall Beach in very bad weather and dark. Sat there for four more days. Finally headed for Frobisher Bay where the weather deteriorated rapidly. Tried to get to Rowley Island DEW Line airstrip but unable to get out on VHF due broken antenna. Could hear Hall Beach telling me to return to Hall Beach and not go to Rowley. Went back to Hall Beach, sat for another couple of days. Then back to Coral Harbour, then Dorset, then Frobisher Bay, on instruments all the way. The meeting the Deputy Minister was to attend was over ten days ago, so he got a Nordair flight back to Ottawa, swearing he would never leave his Ottawa office again. I pulled out for home and was back in Churchill in nine hours. A trip I will never forget. Minus 48 degrees, dark and three miles’ visibility”.
Sadly, CF-JON was lost at Oxford House, Manitoba on 15th May 1970, on take-off en route to Thompson. As the accident summary records: “Collided with trees on take-off due to misuse or failure to use flaps; failed to see / avoid objects; minor injuries to pilot; aircraft destroyed”.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005)