Otter 222 was delivered to D. D. Thompson Aviation Ltd., a leasing company based in Montreal, on 5th June 1957, registered CF-MEL. It went on lease to Northern Wings Ltd., (Les Ailes du Nord), serving the towns and settlements along the North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec. In October 1961 the Otter was sold to Thomas Lamb Airways Ltd., (later Lambair) and flown to the company's base at The Pas, Manitoba where it was painted in their colours. It then went to the company's base at Churchill, where it joined Otter CF-JON (203) on charter work in the District of Keewatin.
MEL was to remain based at Churchill for many years, serving the Arctic. It is mentioned in RCAF records on 27th January 1964. That day, RCAF Albatross 9310 passed through Churchill northbound to Grise Fjord on a medevac mission. It arrived back at Churchill, headed south to Winnipeg, carrying an infant and an Eskimo woman. It delayed its departure from Churchill until Otter MEL arrived from Rankin Inlet, carrying an injured Eskimo child. The child was transferred to the Albatross, which then departed for Winnipeg.
Lambair was very much a family business, as the following excerpt from Jack Lamb makes clear: “Mother would listen to the HF radio in her kitchen at the Moose Lake, Manitoba cattle ranch and hear the boys communicating with each other between the Yukon, Baffin Island and James Bay. I recall one occasion I was sitting on the water at Pond Inlet on the top end of Baffin Island, drifting back with the tide setting the Otter's anchor. While waiting for the hook to catch on the bottom, I gave The Pas a call on the HF radio. 'The Pas…MEL, do you read?'. 'MEL, this is The Pas, go ahead Jackie'. 'OK, Connie, check me on the water at Pond Inlet for the night'. This was a distance of fifteen hundred miles. My Ottawa passengers were duly impressed. It gave them a feeling of comfort knowing they were not out of touch with the rest of the world as they sat floating on the Arctic Ocean waiting for the anchor to hook the seabed a hundred feet below them”.
“On another occasion on 28th July 1965, my brother Donnie arrived in one of the Otters with my dad, Werner Frenz and Lyle Brown all the way from The Pas to my Mary River camp on Baffin Island. Werner and Lyle were filming a documentary for the CBC titled 'The Flying Lambs'. They had an engine failure with their Otter while en route. A rocker arm shaft on one of the engine's nine cylinders broke, forcing them to land in a remote muskeg lake between Thompson and Churchill. As Donald was making his dead-stick forced landing, he called the Lambair base at Churchill on the HF radio giving his location and a brief explanation of his problem. Once on the water he tied up the Otter to a spruce tree and waited for the Churchill Otter to arrive with a spare cylinder. Soon the rescue Otter landed and taxied up as close as he could. It was just a matter of a few hours before Donald and the pilot of the other Otter had the broken cylinder changed and both Otters were back in the air heading for Churchill, a graphic example for CBC to witness the resourcefulness and capabilities of a bush pilot. The next day they continued their journey, a further twelve hundred miles north to my camp on Baffin Island, stopping to refuel at Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay and Hall Beach on this long, twelve-hour flight. The documentary crew spent a few days with us at the Mary River camp, filming our operation. Donald in the meantime had picked up some work with his Otter and was busy flying a government survey party around the mid Baffin Island area”.
In June 1966, Lambair Beech 18 CF-TLA was damaged while landing in Arctic Bay. Lambair shipped two new propellers to Churchill, where they were loaded on board Otter MEL and headed north on the long, twelve-hour flight to Arctic Bay. The propellers were fitted to the Beech 18, but sadly on its attempted take-off it ran out of runway, nosed over and ended on its back. Otter MEL flew the 1,200 miles back to Churchill. Two weeks later, all the required parts for the repair of the Beech 18 had been assembled, including two new propellers, two rudders, two vertical fins, a horizontal stabilizer, metal, rivets, bolts, angle iron, generator, two salvage engineers from Field Aviation in Calgary. Once again, the Otter was headed two thousand miles back up to Arctic Bay. This was a 20-hour flight in the hundred miles per hour Otter. After much effort, they got the Beech 18 repaired and both aircraft headed for home, fuel stopping at the McCar Inlet DEW Line site and at Rankin Inlet en route to Churchill. These flights illustrate the great distances covered by the bush Otter. A typical tasking for Otter MEL during summer 1969 was July 25th, routing Churchill-Rankin- Chesterfield Inlet; July 26th Chesterfield-Coral Harbour-Repulse-Coral Harbour-Chesterfield; July 27th Chesterfield-Churchfield, sixteen hours in the air.
On 1st December 1971, CF-MEL crashed at Whale Cove, Northwest Territories, on wheel-skis. As the accident report records: “Take-off run; airframe icing; failed to abort take-off; substantial damage”. It was repaired and returned to service, registered C-FMEL. It occasionally helped out with the company's scheduled services out of Thompson, Manitoba, but was mostly based out of Churchill. It was one of two Otters (the other being C-FGTL) still serving with Lambair on that sad day of 18th February 1981 when the company went bankrupt. Both Otters were sold in June of that year, MEL to Ontario Central Airlines, based at Red Lake, Ontario. This company changed its name to Nunasi Central Airlines Ltd in June 1984. The Otter was involved in a crash at the Red Lake base on 15th January 1985.
After the Otter, on wheel-skis, was loaded and three passengers boarded, the pilot took off from the Red Lake ice strip. Shortly after lift off, when the power was reduced to climb, the aircraft pitched up uncommanded. The pilot pushed the control column forward and started to trim nose-down, but nothing happened. He retracted the flaps to the climb position, and as the aircraft approached the stall speed, he pulled the power off. He was able to keep the wings level as the aircraft fell and just before it hit the runway, he applied full power. The aircraft struck the runway in a nose-down, wings level attitude. Two of the three propeller blades sheared off and the main landing gear spread outwards as the gear struts were driven into the fuselage. The Otter then slid 300 feet before coming to a stop. The pilot had experienced a similar pitch-up on the previous day, but he had been able to control the aircraft with elevator and trim input. When he had landed at his destination, the pilot discovered some 600 pounds of canned goods in the rear section of the aircraft, which he had not been aware of. On the return flight, the aircraft had performed normally.
In view of the un-commanded pitch-up after lift off, the accident investigation concentrated on the possible failure of a primary flight control component. Prior to disassembly at the accident site, the aircraft was examined for any component failure, and two more examinations were conducted following disassembly. No evidence of control failure or jamming was found. The investigation did reveal that the Centre of Gravity was about four inches past the aft limit, creating an unstable situation which the pilot could not control. Weight and balance calculations had not been completed prior to the flight. The Otter was repaired and the following year, in February 1986, entered service with Green Airways, based at Red Lake. It flew with Green Airways for eight years, until sold in September 1994 to Cargair Ltée., St. Michel-des-Saints, Québec, passing on in August 1995 to Wildcountry Airways, also based at Red Lake, Ontario. It flew for Wildcountry Airways until it met a fiery end on Sunday, 16th June 1996.
The Otter took off from Cochenour seaplane base at 2pm that day, on a charter flight carrying six American fishermen to the Sandy Beach Lodge on Trout Lake, south of Red Lake, Ontario. Five minutes after departure, the pilot radioed that he would be returning because of an on-board fire.
According to a passenger, the engine started to make odd noises and smoke appeared on the outside of the aircraft. It then appeared inside the cabin and became so thick it was impossible to see or breathe. The pilot said he could see flames coming from the floor as he helped the passenger in the right front seat out of the seat and back into the cabin. The smoke became so intense that the pilot could only see out the side window to land the aircraft.
The pilot landed the Otter at McNeely Bay, three miles east of Cochenour. The pilot got his passengers onto the floats, where they were picked up almost immediately by fishermen on the lake who had spotted the burning aircraft and headed over to help. The Otter was destroyed by the fire. Only the floats escaped the flames after a Ministry of Natural Resources helicopter dropped a load of water on the burning aircraft. The pilot, a veteran of 24 years flying, suffered second-degree burns to his right arm, ear and face. He was commended for his skillful and speedy action in saving his passengers.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005)