The third Otter off the line CF-ODH was delivered to Arthur Fecteau of Senneterre, Quebec, a veteran French Canadian bush pilot, on 29 December 1952.
This Otter had initially been allocated as the first of an order of Otters to be delivered to the Ontario Provincial Air Service (OPAS), in whose registration sequence the marks are, and in July 1952 had been painted in the OPAS overall yellow colour scheme in the paint shop at Downsview. Delivery of the Otter to OPAS was delayed however as the aircraft did not have an escape hatch in the ceiling. While this issue was being resolved, Mr Fecteau arrived in Downsview with hard cash and negotiated the purchase of the Otter for $83,000. OPAS agreed to release ODH to help DHC establish the Otter in the commercial market, which resulted in the first Otter to be delivered to OPAS being CF-ODJ (14) in May 1953.
Arthur Fecteau had first set up business in Senneterre in the heart of Quebec’s mining district in 1936 with a Travelair biplane. He managed to promote enough business flying Indians and fur traders to keep his tiny one-man business solvent. He traded his Travelair for a Moth, the first of a long series of De Havilland types he was to own. He gradually built up his business and his fleet. In 1948 he acquired a Beaver, the ninth off the line, which represented a radical change in thinking, as nearly all his equipment up to then had been second hand. He became convinced that new, modern equipment with increased performance and efficiency would have a strong appeal to the public.
With this in mind he acquired CF-ODH as his first Otter, which arrived at the Senneterre base on 2 January 1953. On Sunday 4 January Mr Fecteau demonstrated his new Otter at the Val d’Or airport, taking sixty persons aloft on short flights. Gradually more Otters were added to the Fecteau fleet, some new and some second hand. The Otters proved ideal as bush aircraft in Quebec. They could transport entire mining camps from one location to another, including drilling equipment and building materials. They were invaluable for general charter work. As well as the main base at Senneterre, other bases were later established throughout the province, at Chibougamau, Sept Iles, Matagami, Havre St.Pierre, Temiscamie and Gagnon.
ODH is mentioned in the history of the RCAF Radar Station at Parent, Quebec for 12 June 1954. “Intercept on unknown aircraft. June’s fine weather assisted by a light operational forecast indicated that an uneventful period lay ahead. This feeling of tranquillity was dispelled at 1415Z when a track was identified as unknown. Two of a flight of four aircraft en route to Parent were diverted towards this “unknown” for positive identification. The aircraft proved to be an Otter CF-ODH”. The Otter was engaged that day on a photographic sortie, flown by Thomas Fecteau, and landed back at Senneterre.
In 1955 Arthur Fecteau incorporated his business as A.Fecteau Transport Aérien Ltée, which took over all his aircraft, including the Otters. ODH was involved in an accident at Lac Cache, Quebec on 10 March 1957. The left ski picked up slush on take off from a frozen surface, mostly at the front end, causing the ski to take an extreme nose down position. The ski caught on landing at Lac Cache causing the undercarriage to collapse. There was substantial damage to the left hand undercarriage, including all struts, radius rod, ski and cables broken, left hand aileron and wing tip fairing and some damage to the fuselage below the cockpit door. The damage was repaired and ODH returned to service. It moved around the various Fecteau bases, frequently flying out of Chibougamau.
The company A. Fecteau Transport Aérien became a subsidiary of Quebecair in 1968 but continued to trade under its own name. The 1970s colour scheme comprised grey under-fuselage, white top and tail, blue cheatline, small company titles on the fuselage and a company logo on the tail, and ODH was painted in this scheme. The company took over the aircraft of Northern Wings Ltd (Les Ailes du Nord), another Quebecair subsidiary, in 1978 to give it a fleet of eleven Otters, making it at that time the world’s largest commercial operator of the Otter. The following year the company name was changed to Air Fecteau Ltée.
In 1981 Air Fecteau merged with another bush operator, La Sarre Air Services of La Sarre, Quebec to form Propair Inc. This new company had a massive fleet of no less than 14 Otters and 14 Beavers, as well as several single Cessnas. C-FODH was registered to Propair Inc on 3 May 1982 and adopted another new colour scheme, yellow overall with blue cheatline and tail band and Propair titles. As with the company’s other Otters, it moved between the different bases. In September 1982 it was based at Chibougamau Lac Cache, alongside C-FJUH (214) and C-FVVY (410). Here the work consisted mostly of flying hunters and fishermen into the bush, as well as government personnel and native trappers.
During the early to mid 1980s, Propair maintained its fleet of 14 Otters spread around the company’s many bases throughout Quebec. During the late 1980s the Otter fleet was gradually reduced and was down to 5 aircraft by 1990 and was subsequently reduced further. By 1997 only three Otters were left in service C-FODH and C-FVVY, both of which had been painted in Propair’s new corporate colour scheme of white fuselage with gold cheatline outlined in black, and C-FJUH which remained in the old all yellow scheme. ODH was then based at Chibougamau - Lac Cache. By the end of 1999, following the sale of VVY, only Otters ODH and JUH remained in service with Propair.
ODH had been the first Otter to be acquired by Monsieur Fecteau in 1952 and of all the DHC-3s operated by his company over the years, it was unique for the length of time it served the Province of Quebec in the service of the Fecteau companies, an almost unbelievable 47 years. As other otters came and went, ODH was retained, perhaps for sentimental reasons? Its operation was also a safe one, with only two incidents recorded, the one at Lac Cache in March 1957 already mentioned and one on 6 April 1974 at Lac Mistassini. As that accident summary recorded: “Climb; stall; cargo shifted; substantial damage”. It assumed a nose-up attitude during initial stage of climb from snow surface of a lake – the load of lumber being carried had shifted. The trim wheel was blocked by the lumber. It crashed on the surface of the lake. It had been operating on wheel-skis from the frozen lake at the time. It was repaired and returned to service.
All good things must come to an end and after 47 years of service in Quebec ODH was sold. There were those who would have liked to see this veteran remain in Quebec, in a museum, but despite its age this Otter had many more years of productive life left in it. It headed west, to Vancouver, and its registration to Propair Inc was cancelled on 28 January 2000, after arrival in Vancouver. It was registered to its new owners Harbour Air Inc on 10 February 2000, still as C-FODH. Harbour Air had been founded in 1981 by “three far-sighted pilots who saw an opportunity on Canada’s pacific coast to build an airline that serviced British Columbia’s forest industry”, according to the company’s web site.
“The partners purchased a couple of floatplanes and set up shop in an old floating office on the waterfront in Vancouver Harbour”. Harbour Air began a scheduled service to the Gulf islands and opened a new waterfront terminal on the river at Vancouver International Airport. The first Otters joined the fleet in 1985. In the spring of 1993 Harbour Air took over the float plane operation of Trans Provincial Airlines, which had encountered financial difficulties, which gave the company a base at Prince Rupert, on the Pacific coast of northern BC, as well as services from there to the Queen Charlotte Islands. By this stage services were also being flown from Vancouver to points on Vancouver Island as well as charters and sight-seeing flights.
On arrival at Harbour Air’s facility at Vancouver at the end of January 2000, the veteran C-FODH entered the hangar where it was converted to a Vazar turbine Otter, received the panoramic window conversion and was painted into Harbour Air’s yellow and white colour scheme. It took fleet number 307. It then headed north to be based at Prince Rupert where it started service during the summer of 2000, flying the company’s schedules out to the Queen Charlotte Islands. As of 19 October 2000 ODH had a total of 23,714 hours airframe time.
The Otter was involved in a bizarre incident on 8 December 2000, returning from Masset to Prince Rupert on a scheduled flight. It had on board six passengers, including a court group of four. One of this group was a prisoner who was being escorted by a female deputy sheriff back to Prince Rupert to face assault charges. At about 3:40pm when the Otter was 50 kms out from Prince Rupert, cruising at 4,800 feet over the Hecate Strait, the prisoner managed (despite being handcuffed) to wrestle open the rear door and jumped to his death. As the Vancouver Province newspaper reported: “The pilot was about to take the plane down to try to recover the man’s body which they could see floating in the ocean below them, but the deputy sheriff, who had been dangling halfway out of the plane moments earlier, went into shock, so they abandoned the attempt and headed straight to Prince Rupert to get the woman to hospital”. Coast Guard S-61 helicopter call sign CTG 253 proceeded from Prince Rupert to the jump site to search for the casualty but the body was never found.
On 22 September 2001 ODH suffered a bird strike landing at Seal Cove seaplane base from Digby Island but was undamaged. On 2 December 2001 ODH called over Pig Island on final to the Seal Cove seaplane base, without any previous call prior to entering the area. Shortly thereafter the pilot called again reporting traffic on final, which was a DHC-2 Beaver landing from the northwest. He was then given an advisory which included additional traffic information on another DHC-2 which had reported Greentop Rock inbound through the harbour to Seal Cove. All three aircraft landed without incident.
The Harbour Air Otters alternate between the company’s various bases. As at October 2002 ODH was based at the Vancouver City downtown base, flying scheduled services to Vancouver Island, which it continued to do over the years that followed. What with its conversion to a turbine Otter, avionics updates etc and looking pristine in its new paint scheme, ODH was not only the oldest Otter still flying but also one of the finest and most modern. During 2010 and 2011 and subsequently a number of CADORS reports showed ODH to be still engaged on the Harbour Air scheduled services between Vancouver City and Vancouver Island, details as follows:-
Incident: Victoria Harbour, BC. 27-Sep-2010 Operating as HR307 Vancouver Harbour to Victoria Harbour. A vessel exited the fuel dock at Victoria Harbour causing ODH to go around for a safe landing.
Incident: Vancouver Harbour, BC. 04-May-2011 ODH was just south of the cranes about to turn final westbound inbound to Vancouver Harbour at 1,500 feet when a loud bang occurred, lots of engine vibration and a continuous loud humming noise. The otter was flown to the water and landed safely, taxied to the dock and shut down. The engine was sent off for analysis and repair.
Incident: Victoria International Airport, BC. 12-Nov-2011 While on descent from Vancouver International Airport, Air Canada Jazz flight JZA 59 operated by a DHC-8 conflicted with Otter ODH from Vancouver Harbour to Victoria Harbour. The aircraft were north-east of Victoria International in an area where one nautical mile and one thousand feet separation were required. They were 0.7nm and 500 feet apart. The Otter had the Dash 8 visual and acknowledged the fact prior to an advisory being issued by ATC.
Incident: Vancouver International Airport, BC. 28-Jan-2013 An Air Canada Jazz DHC-8-102 was on an IFR flight plan inbound operating flight JZA 8072. C-FODH was operating one of its scheduled commuter flights as HR307. The Dash 8 was level at 3,000 feet when it received a TCAS radar advisory in relation to the opposite direction Otter, which was at 2,500 feet VFR. The Dash 8 reported climbing a couple of hundred feet.
Incident: Victoria Harbour, BC. 15-Nov-2013. ODH was landing on a flight from Vancouver Harbour and suffered a bird strike on landing in Area Alpha. No apparent damage.
Incident: Georgia Strait, BC. 02-Apr-2015 ODH en route Victoria Harbour to Vancouver Water Aerodrome. Elected to land on the Georgia Strait due to pilot illness. Company dispatched another pilot to complete the flight.
Incident: Vancouver Harbour, BC. 20-Aug-2015 ODH taking off from Victoria Harbour en route to Vancouver Harbour. Bird strike but no damage.
Incident:Victoria Harbour, BC 02-Sep-2015 ODH taking off from Victoria Harbour en route to Vancouver Harbour. Bird strike from a Canadian Goose. Several went through the propeller. ODH returned to the dock.
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.