Otter 294 was delivered to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on 5th November 1959, registered VP-FAK. It was packed into a crate and shipped to Deception Island in the Antarctic, arriving 26th January 1960. Also purchased at the same time was Beaver VP-FAJ (1342), which was shipped to Deception Island along with the Otter, both arriving on board the vessel 'MV Kista Dan'. Sir Vivian Fuchs, in his book “Of Ice and Men” describes how the Otter arrived at the base at Deception Island, for operation by what was then known as the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS):-
“Our first priority was to build a raft on which to tow the Otter's fuselage ashore. For this we had brought a number of Army bridge building pontoons, on which a platform was now constructed. Once ashore the plane was man-hauled onto the beach and up to the airstrip. The wings came ashore the same way in immensely heavy crates. Fitting them was a formidable task for there was no mechanical way of lifting them into position, but the operation was another triumph of FID-power. An empty crate was hauled into position and sixteen stalwarts stood on it. A wing was then passed to them and amid many a groan and grunt of 'Careful, for God's sake' they managed to lift the wing above their heads. Now came the strain, for tall men bore the weight on hunched shoulders, while short ones had their arms fully extended above their heads. A comic situation developed when it was found that two volunteers were too short even to reach the underside of the wing and a second tier of boxes had to be provided to enable them to play their part. Then, proud of their success, the FIDS had to repeat the whole exercise on the other side. Fitting the propeller and the brake hydraulic system also gave the engineers trouble, but two days later the first test flight was made”.
The official BAS history of VP-FAK reads as follows: “Fitted with wheel skis. Wintered and serviced at Deception Island. Operated during summers from Adelaide Island from 1960/61 onwards. Damaged by gale at Deception Island 6th October 1961 and by crevasse accident at Adelaide Island 19th December 1964. 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 that 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 sunk into a crevasse. Fortunately the pilot was manoeuvring the aircraft at nearly full power and the Otter had enough momentum to come out of the hole by itself. The damage was extensive but was repaired and the Otter resumed service. The first airborne radio echo sounding in the Antarctic was carried out using VP-FAK during the 1966/67 season. The Otter continued in service until it was grounded due to extensive metal fatigue in the fuselage on 26th March 1967. Written off at the end of the season”.
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 after it had been “written off”. Over the years, Deception Island was visited by many tourists to the Antarctic and photographs they took 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 a Historic Site and protected under Antarctic Treaties, as were all artefacts located there, including the Otter. 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 several old abandoned BAS bases, was diverted to Deception Island to collect the Otter, arriving there on 3rd 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 towed to the beach.
From there the crane lifted it onto a barge, which took it out 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 sailed for the current BAS Antarctic base at Rothera, where it arrived on 18th April. Here the Otter was unloaded, placed on a trailer and towed by a tractor to the BAS hangar, where it was placed into storage for safekeeping, while a decision is made on its ultimate fate.
To be updated.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005)