Otter 293 was delivered to the United States Army on 21st October 1958 with serial 58-1686 (tail number 81686). It was allocated to the 12th Aviation Company, Fort Sill, Oklahoma and in August 1961 it flew north to Alaska when the Company was re-assigned there to join the Yukon Command. The 12th Aviation Company was based at Fort Wainwright, Fairbanks but maintained a Platoon at Fort Richardson, Anchorage and 81686 alternated between the two bases while it flew for the 12th Aviation Company throughout the 1960s. In July 1970 it was assigned to the 19th Aviation Battalion at Fort Richardson, where it remained until May 1971 when it flew south and was put into storage at the Red River Army Depot in Texas, awaiting disposal. It remained there until May 1972 when it was deleted from the Army inventory and disposed of as surplus.
The Otter was donated to the Southwest Technical Institute, East Camden, Arkansas, to be used as a ground instructional airframe. It was used to train aircraft mechanics, as part of the Institute's Aviation Maintenance FAA School programme. By October 1972 the Otter was located in the Institute's hangar on its campus and was in use to demonstrate starting and stopping procedures; taxying and ground operations; maintenance and engine changes. Even though it would not be flying with the Institute, they were required to register the aircraft, and it was registered to the Southwest Technical Institute as N16295 on 7th December 1972. By mid 1974 the Institute had no further use for the Otter and it was put up for sale by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. On 23rd August 1974 it was sold to Air Craftsmen Ltd., of St. John, New Brunswick for $19,200. This company traded in Otters and had purchased many former US Army Otters which it had brought to its facility at St. John for re-build. Otter 293 however had been bought for immediate sale on, and even though it had not flown for some years, it was collected by an Air Craftsmen Ltd., pilot from the Southwest Technical Institute, East Camden, Arkansas and ferried as N16295 to Long Beach, California where it was to be refurbished and made ready for a sale on.
By Bill of Sale dated 8th November 1974, Air Craftsmen Ltd., sold the Otter to Horizon Air Service Ltd., of Honolulu, Hawaii and on the same day its new owners were allocated registration N35310. At that stage, the Otter had 3,933 hours total airframe time. On 18th November 1974 a Special Airworthiness Certificate was issued by the FAA, and two days later N35310 started off on its long trans-Pacific ferry flight, routing Long Beach-San Jose, California - Honolulu. It is one of the few Otters known to have flown across the Pacific, the only other two being 247 and 258 on their return from Australia. On 10th December 1974, after arrival in Honolulu, a Standard Certificate of Airworthiness was issued. By this stage, the total time had increased to 3,967 hours, indicating that the ferry flight had taken all of 34 hours.
N35310, painted in a most attractive blue overall scheme with white engine cowling, cheat line and wing tips, was used for inter-island freight flights. Its first recorded incident occurred on 15th May 1975. The Otter had arrived at the Honolulu International Airport on Oahu Island from Waimea on the island of Kauai, and was continuing its scheduled domestic cargo run to Kamuela on Hawaii Island. A Hawaiian Airlines DC-9 had just taken off from runway 08 at Honolulu. The Otter was cleared to take off from runway 04, the tower controller having issued a warning of wake turbulence at the intersection of the two runways. After lift off, the Otter encountered severe vortex turbulence and there followed an “uncontrolled collision with the ground”. The pilot, the only occupant, was not injured but substantial damage was caused to the Otter. The pilot was blamed for “failing to follow approved procedures and directives” and for having “disregarded good operating practice”.
The Otter was repaired at Honolulu during June 1975 and returned to service. Sadly, it was completely lost on Tuesday 27th April 1976. It had departed from Kamuela on Hawaii Island (the “Big Island”, as it is known locally) on a scheduled cargo run to Honolulu International Airport just before 3pm that afternoon. There were two on board, the pilot and a trainee pilot. During the climb out, the engine failed for undetermined reasons. As the pilot later said: “We came down looking for a place to put the plane down but there was too much rock and brush. It would have been a disaster type of landing”. Accordingly, he made a “forced landing off airport on water”, two hundred yards off Upolu Point on Hawaii Island, outside of the reef. The two on board swam ashore and so gentle had been the ditching that the Otter remained afloat.
At the time, a US Army Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter from Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division was exercising on the Big Island. After the Otter had declared an emergency, Air Traffic Control vectored the helicopter to the scene of the ditching to assist. The Huey, with a crew of four, landed on the beach, picked up the two Otter pilots and flew them to Kahului Airport on nearby Maui Island. Although the helicopter had rescued the two fliers, Army regulations prohibited the helicopter crew from giving the two Otter pilots a lift home, so they had to catch a scheduled flight back to Honolulu. This, as it turned out, was a blessing in disguise.
The Huey refuelled at Kahului Airport and then set off for its home base, Wheeler AAF., on Oahu Island. However, shortly after departure, the Army helicopter itself declared an emergency at 17:21 after its engine failed and three minutes later the Huey ditched in the ocean five miles northwest of Kahului. It came down about one hundred yards from Waiehu golf course on Maui. The four Army personnel on board evacuated their helicopter, which sank. They struggled into their raft, which overturned in a big wave. However, with the help of some surfers, they managed to paddle the raft ashore. As the local newspaper reported: “Chopper rescues two, gets rescued itself”. As for Otter N35310, it remained afloat for a few hours but an attempt to tow it by boat to Kawaihae Harbour that night was foiled, when the aircraft sank before the boat arrived. It went to the bottom and there was no salvage attempt.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005)