DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 294

VP-FAK desolate at Deception Island.
Photos: Unknown photpgrapher © Date unknown - Karl E. Hayes Collection
VP-FAK in storage at London Colney, United Kingdom.
Photos: Garry Lakin © 12 May 2005
VP-FAK on arrival at London Colney.
Photos: Unknown photpgrapher © Date unknown

c/n 294

VP-FAK

x

• VP-FAK British Antarctic Survey, (BAS). Delivered 05-Nov-1959.

Incident: Deception Island 6th October 1961. Damaged by gale.

Accident: Adelaide Island 19th December 1964. Crevasse accident. Further information in history below.

Grounded 26th March 1967. This was due to extensive metal fatigue in the fuselage. Effectively  Written off at the end of the season which would have been mid 1967. The fuselage (and other parts) remained at Deception Island until “re-patriated“ in Apr 2004 to the British Antarctic Survey base at Rothera. Read the full story below.

• VP-FAK de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre at Salisbury Hall, London Colney, UK. (See notes below).

Stored

Otter 294 made its first test flight at Downsview on 17 October 1959 and was delivered to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on 5 November 1959 registered VP-FAK. It was packed into a crate at Downsview, as was Beaver VP-FAJ (1342) which had been purchased at the same time. Both were shipped to Deception Island in the Antarctic on board the MV Kista Dan, arriving 26 January 1960. They were re-assembled and entered service. VP-FAK’s first flight in the Antarctic was on 3 February 1960.

Thereafter the official BAS history of Otter VP-FAK reads as follows: “Fitted with wheel skis. Wintered and serviced at Deception Island. Operated during summers from Adelaide Island from 1960 / 1961 onwards.  In its first season it helped to establish the base at Fossil Bluff, which it continued to re-supply over the next few years. Flying from Adelaide Island it flew in support of field teams and dog parties. It also flew from Stonington. Damaged by gale at Deception Island 6 October 1961 and by crevasse accident at Adelaide Island 19 December 1964”.

This crevasse accident is described as follows: On a flight to Keystone Cliffs damage was sustained on the bottom fuselage aft of the main loading doors. A runway was marked with flags and the Muskeg tractor was driven along the proposed landing strip to ensure it was crevasse free. As the Otter was turning at the end of the marked runway for take-off, it went off the runway and the tail ski sank into a crevasse. Fortunately the pilot was manoeuvring the aircraft at nearly full power and the aircraft had enough momentum to come out of the hole by itself. The damage was extensive but was repaired and FAK continued in service.  The rear fuselage and other parts from Otter VP-FAL (377), which had been destroyed in a crash on Adelaide Island in December 1964 were used in the repair of VP-FAK.

The first airborne radio echo sounding in the Antarctic was carried out using FAK during the austral summer of 1966 / 1967. It made its last flight, from Adelaide to Deception Island on 7 March 1967.  It was grounded due to extensive metal fatigue found in the fuselage at the end of that season, on 26 March 1967, and was deleted from the BAS active inventory and parked at the Deception Island base. It had flown 981 hours in BAS service. Parts from FAK were used for Otter VP-FAM (395) when it was rebuilt in early 1969. The Deception Island base was closed due to a volcanic eruption in December 1967 and the BAS moved to Adelaide Base on Adelaide Island. The fuselage of VP-FAK remained at Deception Island, lying outside against the abandoned hangar. It was still to be seen there in 2004, thirty seven years later.

Over the years, Deception Island was visited by many tourists to the Antarctic, and photographs of the abandoned Otter were circulated around the world on the web, arousing much interest in the aircraft despite its very remote location. As far as the BAS was concerned, their former base at Whaler’s Bay on Deception Island was designated as an Historic Site and protected under Antarctic Treaties, as were all artefacts located there, including  Otter FAK. It appears however that some individual did not agree with this interpretation, claimed the right to salvage the Otter and threatened to do just that. To prevent that happening and to preserve their historic Otter, BAS took action in April 2004.

The logistics support ship ‘RRS Ernest Shackleton’, which was engaged on a clean up of abandoned BAS bases, was diverted to Deception Island to collect the Otter, arriving there on 3 April 2004. This proved quite a task. First of all the volcanic ash all around the aircraft had to be dug away and a crane used to lift the Otter fuselage onto a trailer, on which it was to be towed to the beach. From there the crane lifted it onto a barge, which took it to the ship, and it was winched on board. As well as the fuselage, the wings, tail section and one ski from the Otter were located in the hangar. In the course of cleaning up a rubbish dump at nearby Kroner Lake, the other ski was found, as was the Otter’s engine. All these pieces were also loaded on board the ‘RRS Ernest Shackleton’, which then sailed for the current BAS base at Rothera, where it arrived on 13 April 2004. Here the Otter was unloaded, placed on a trailer and towed by tractor to the BAS aircraft hangar, where it was placed into storage for safekeeping, while a decision was made on its ultimate fate.

The Otter remained at Rothera until 25/26 January 2005, when it was loaded on board the ‘RRS James Clark Ross’ and transported to Port Stanley, the Falkland Islands, arriving 30 January 2005. It was stored on a trailer at Port Stanley until 4 April 2005 when it was loaded on board the ‘RRS Ernest Shackleton’ once again, which sailed for the UK, arriving at the port of Grimsby on 8 May 2005. The following day Otter FAK was unloaded and roaded to the De Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre at London-Colney, on the outskirts of London, where it went on a ten year loan from the BAS, intended for restoration to static display condition.

Some excellent photographs of the Otter arriving at the museum appeared on its website, www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk. As the website explained: “With the full co-operation of BAS, this Otter will become the launch next spring (2006) of the De Havilland Aircraft Heritage Learning Experience. It will be the centre-piece of a diorama illustrating the world-class scientific achievements of BAS in the Antarctic and the key role played by De Havilland Aircraft for 50 years in supporting this vital work”.

Alas, this never happened, and the Otter sat there awaiting restoration. In June 2011 the Heritage Centre notified BAS that they wanted to end the loan, as it had not been possible to find volunteers to work on the restoration. In January 2012 the Otter was removed from the Heritage Centre by M K Aero Support and transported to a barn at Newhouse Farm, Leaden Roding, Essex on the undertaking of Glyn Craig, an aircraft enthusiast, to look after it, to see if he could restore it. In an update published by BAS in February 2013 it was reported that the Otter had been moved from the Heritage Centre to “elsewhere in the UK” for restoration purposes.  As of January 2018 there was no further report as to how the restoration of Otter VP-FAK was progressing.

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.