DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 206

N455A at Wasilla - WWA, Alaska.
Photo: Karl E. Hayes © April 1997
N455A at Vernon - CYVK, British Columbia.
Photo: John W. Olafson © 13 February 2005
N455A after conversion at Kalair.
Photo: John W. Olafson © 29 April 2005
N455A gets airborne at Vernon - CYVK, British Columbia.
Photo: John W. Olafson © 29 April 2005

c/n 206

IM-1708 • C-FWYF

N455A

• IM-1708 Indian Air Force. Delivered 15-Nov 1957. Removed from inventory at Gwuahati Air Base, Assam, India, 31-Mar-1991.

• Un-regd Mike Hackman Aircraft Sales / La Ronge Aviation, Saskatoon, SK. Purchased Late-1994.

• C-FWYF Springer Aerospace Ltd., Sault Ste. Marie, ON. Based Bar River, ON. Regd 27-November 1995. Canx 18-Dec-1995 on export to USA.

• N455A Wipaire Inc., Inver Grove, MN. Regd Jan-1996.

• N455A Jack-Knife Associates Inc., Anchorage, AK. dba Wood River Lodge, Dillingham, AK.  Regd May-1996.

Airworthiness date: 16-Jun-1999.

• N455A GCI Communication Corporation, Anchorage, AK.  Regd 25-Jan-2005.

Note: Arrived Vernon, BC., late January 2005 to be converted to a Texas Turbine by Kal Air, conversion # 16. It was registered to GCI Communication Corporation of Anchorage on 25 January 2005. After the turbine conversion was completed, the Otter left Vernon at the end of April 2005 to return to Alaska and continued service of the Wood River Lodge at Dillingham.

Accident 16 km (10 mls) NW of Aleknagik, AK 09-Aug-2010. The amphibious float-equipped aircraft sustained substantial damage when it impacted mountainous tree-covered terrain, Of the nine people aboard, the airline transport pilot and four passengers died at the scene, and four passengers sustained serious injuries. A more fulsome record of the accident is shown below.

Written off

Otter 206 was delivered to the Indian Air Force on 15th November 1957 with serial IM-1708. After test flying at Downsview, it was packed into a crate and shipped to India where it was re-assembled. The Indian Air Force continued to fly the Otter until the type was formally withdrawn from the inventory on 31st March 1991 and the surviving aircraft were offered for sale. The successful bidders were Mike Hackman Aircraft Sales / La Ronge Aviation, who travelled to India to prepare the Otters to be shipped back to Canada. IM-1708 was located at Gwuahati Air Base, Assam and was one of four Otters shipped from Calcutta to Vancouver and then overland to Saskatoon, where they arrived late January 1995.

Otter 206 was sold on to Springer Aerospace Ltd., of Bar River, Ontario to whom it was registered C-FWYF in November 1995. They prepared it for its next owner, Wipaire Inc., of Inver Grove, Minnesota to whom it was registered the following month as N455A. Wipaire Inc., who manufacture aircraft floats, equipped the Otter with a set of their Wipline 8000 amphibious floats, and it was then sold on to Jack-Knife Associates Inc., of Anchorage, Alaska, trading as Wood River Lodge, to whom it was registered in May 1996. The Otter, which is named “Big Red”, is used to service Wood River Lodge, flying alongside two Beavers. The Lodge, located near to Dillingham, Alaska has its own website from which the following is taken:

“Wood River Lodge is located within the Wood Tikchik State Park, a one and a half million acre park that encompasses mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers and wildlife with scenery that rivals any in the world. The Agulowak River flows in front of the lodge. Rugged Jack-Knife Mountain rises to the south. Within the park you will find grizzly bear, moose, wolf and caribou, many kinds of birds including Bald and Golden eagles, tundra swans and waterfowl. You can see glaciers hanging over a silent, mirrored lake, snow-covered mountains reflected in its blue-green surface. Experience your plane setting down on the surface of that lake so softly you aren't sure you are on the water until you see the wake extending from the floats. Our Otter and Beavers can take our guests, their guides and equipment to any of the rivers, streams or lakes they choose to fish”.

N455A flew for Jack-Knife Associates for eight years, servicing the Wood River Lodge. At the end of the summer 2004 season, the Lodge was sold to GCI Communications Corporation of Anchorage, a major Alaskan tele-communications company. Although the Lodge had up to then been available to the public, it now became a private facility, used by GCI for entertaining its customers and guests. It was re-named Agulowak Lodge, being located on the Agulowak River near Lake Aleknogik. Included in the sale were the Otter and two Beavers. By Bill of Sale 29 December 2004 Otter N455A was transferred from Jack-Knife Associates to GCI Communications Corp., to whom it was registered still as N455A on 25 January 2005. The Otter was retained to be used by GCI to service the Lodge. The two Beavers (N104RL and N105RL) were no longer required and they were sold.

The new owner of the Otter arranged for it to be converted to a turbine and for this purpose it arrived at Vernon, BC., late January 2005 to be converted to a Texas Turbine with a Garrett TPE331 engine by Kal-Air. By that stage of its career its total flying hours had increased to 7,889. The conversion was completed by 26 April 2005, after which N455A flew back to Alaska and started serving the Lodge for GCI Communications for summer 2005 and subsequent years. In February 2007 an AOG up-gross kit was installed. By May 2010 its total time had increased to 9,372 hours, indicating just how active this Otter was. It was in use each year from mid May to mid October, based at the Agulowak Lodge. It was used to fly in guests from Dillingham Airport to the Lodge, to fly in supplies for the Lodge and to fly guests out from the lodge for fishing trips to other lakes and rivers. During the winter months the Otter was kept in a hangar at Anchorage, where it was maintained.

The Otter continued to serve Agulowak Lodge for six years, until it was lost in a serious crash on 9 August 2010, ten miles north-east of Aleknagik. This was to be one of the most high profile Otter accidents ever. Five of the nine people on board were killed, including retired Senator Ted Stevens (86), one of Alaska’s most famous politicians. Also among the dead were the pilot of the Otter, and a senior GCI Corporation executive and her son. The pilot was a former chief pilot of Alaska Airlines with over 29,000 flying hours to his credit, who was a well-known and liked Alaskan aviator. Among the survivors was the former head of NASA. The passengers on the Otter had been GCI executives and their guests who were on a fishing trip. With such high profile people involved, the story of the crash was carried by newspapers worldwide.

On the morning of Monday 9 August 2010, the party were due to fly on the Otter from the Agulowak Lodge, on the south-west shoreline of Lake Nerka, where they were staying, to the Nushagak River for a day’s fishing for silver salmon. The weather that morning however was very poor, with low cloud, fog and rain so the departure was delayed until the afternoon. After lunch at the Lodge, the Otter took off at 2.30pm for the flight to the HRM fishing camp on the river. Some 15 minutes after departure it crashed into the side of an un-named mountain in the Muklung Hills, about a third of the way from the Lodge to the remote fishing camp on the banks of the Nushagak River, which was 52 miles south-east of the Lodge. Although the Otter was equipped with an ELT, it did not activate and those at the Lodge were unaware of the accident until at around 6.15pm they contacted the fishing camp to enquire when the party would be returning to the Lodge for dinner, only to find out that the Otter had never arrived at the camp.

At that stage a search was commenced using local aircraft. At 7pm a Cessna 207 of Bristol Bay Air Service based at Dillingham Airport spotted the crashed Otter on steep, heavily wooded terrain 19 miles south-east of the GCI Lodge, and raised the alarm. The USAF Rescue Co-Ordination Centre in Anchorage was notified and their assistance requested. A Robinson R44 helicopter of Tucker Aviation of Dillingham made three trips to the crash site with a doctor and two paramedics, who rendered such assistance as they could to the survivors, but they were unable to free them from the wreckage. Also landing at the scene to render assistance was Egli Aviation’s Jet Ranger N13AT from King Salmon. With darkness falling and rain and fog still blanketing the area, the four survivors and their three rescuers were destined to spend a miserable night on the mountain, stranded on the rocky, brush-covered slope with the pungent odour of spilled fuel wafting through the air.

The previous day, Sunday 8 August, a Piper Cherokee had crashed on the Knik Glacier some fifty miles north of Anchorage and an Army UH-60 helicopter going to its assistance had also crashed while attempting a landing on the glacier, fortunately without injury in either crash. However, all concerned were still stranded on the glacier the following day. An Alaska Air National Guard (ANG) HC-130 Hercules and HH-60G Pavehawk of the 210th Rescue Squadron were orbiting overhead the glacier on the Monday evening when the request came for assistance for the downed Otter, which was 325 miles south-west of Anchorage. As there were survivors on the Otter in need of urgent medical attention, the Rescue Co-Ordination Centre directed the Hercules and the Pavehawk to proceed directly to the accident site, with the Pavehawk helicopter refuelling in flight from the Hercules. They were estimating arrival at the crash site at midnight on the Monday night, but experienced difficulty navigating through Lake Clark Pass due to the weather. With continuing atrocious weather and near-zero visibility at the site, the Pavehawk landed at Dillingham Airport to await a clearance in the weather, while the Hercules “Rescue 2104” (HC-130N serial 93-2104) orbited overhead the crash site.

The clearance came early the following morning, Tuesday 10 August, and although conditions were still poor with less than a quarter mile visibility at the crash site and less than a 100 foot ceiling in the area, the Pavehawk arrived at the accident site shortly after 7am. Also arriving was a US Coast Guard HH-60J Jayhawk from the Coast Guard base at Kodiak as well as a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules, which orbited overhead to provide a radio relay. The Otter had crashed into the side of the mountain with a 30 degree slope, into a thicket of alder brush some 900 feet up the side of the mountain. The brush appears to have cushioned the impact to some extent, leaving the fuselage largely intact, although the engine had been torn away, as had the left wing.

When the ANG and Coast Guard helicopters arrived at the scene they had to land higher up the mountain and their para-rescuemen (PJs) had to descend the mountain cutting through the brush to reach the Otter, and then cutting through the Otter to free the trapped survivors. Two of the survivors were then hoisted up and flown to Dillingham aboard the ANG Pavehawk and two on board the Coast Guard Jayhawk. Three of the survivors were transferred to the Coast Guard Hercules at Dillingham and flown to Anchorage, arriving at the Kulis ANGB from where they were taken to hospital. The fourth survivor was brought to Anchorage on a civilian air ambulance flight.

By this stage, the first Hercules having returned to base, a second 210th Rescue Squadron Hercules had arrived at Dillingham with a fresh Pavehawk crew and PJs. The ANG Pavehawk then returned to the crash site to retrieve the bodies of the five who had been killed, which were then flown from Dillingham to Anchorage on the ANG Hercules. The Pavehawk remained based at Dillingham to assist with the follow-on investigation. The NTSB sent a nine person team from Washington to conduct the investigation, who had to be transported to the accident site. They arrived on Wednesday 11 August and had to make a rugged hike from higher up the mountain to reach the scene. They reported that the fuselage had separated at the cockpit and the left wing had been partially torn loose, but otherwise the Otter was largely intact. The investigators had finished their work at the scene by the Wednesday evening but were continuing to interview persons at the Lodge and the survivors. That evening the wreckage was released to the Otter’s insurers, who were to dismantle the aircraft to enable it to be airlifted by helicopter to Dillingham for a more detailed examination.

During Thursday / Friday 12 / 13 August the dis-mantled Otter was flown by a civilian Bell 204 hired by the insurers from Northern Pioneer Helicopters of Big Lake, Alaska to Dillingham as an underslung load. This company specialises in air-lifting unusual or difficult loads and is equipped with three “Super 204s”, highly modified, restricted category helicopters capable of lifting four thousand pounds weight. Northern Pioneer Helicopters already had experience of lifting downed Otters from the bush, having already hauled out five Otters (N3904, N888KA, N321KA, N254AW and N338D). The Bell 204, N99675, made three trips to the mountain, removing the fuselage of N455A in one lift, the wings on another and the engine and all that remained in the third. Also flying between Dillingham and the accident scene on those days were Egli Air Hauls two Jet Rangers N13AT and N83173, carrying personnel engaged in dis-mantling the Otter. The pieces of the Otter were deposited in a hangar at Dillingham where they would be expertly examined. The NTSB personnel held their final press conference in Anchorage the following day, before returning to Washington.

By Saturday 14 August 2010, after five days of hectic activity by the rescue aircraft, things were returning to normal at Dillingham Airport. Visible on the now lonely ramp was locally-based Otter N5322G operated by Bo Darden of Alaska Cargo Service. He had been operating N5322G for nearly thirty years, flying fuel and supplies from Dillingham throughout the Bristol Bay area.

The NTSB published a report into the crash in May 2011. It concluded that the available evidence was inadequate to determine what happened. The crash was caused “by the pilot’s temporary un-responsiveness for reasons that could not be established from the available information”. The pilot may have suffered a stroke in the last moments of the flight.   Registration N455A was formally cancelled on 30 September 2013.

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.x