Otter 301 was delivered to the United States Army on 25th November 1958 with serial 58-1691 (tail number 81691). It was assigned to the 17th Aviation Company, Fort Ord, California. It was delivered from Downsview to the Sharpe Army Depot, Stockton, California before continuing on to Fort Ord. It was re-assigned to the 18th Aviation Company in January 1962 for deployment to Vietnam, and flew for the Company in Vietnam. In April 1966 it was returned to the United States where it underwent depot level overhaul at the ARADMAC Depot, Corpus Christi, Texas and it was then returned to Vietnam where it re-joined the 18th Aviation Company in July 1966. It was still serving with the 18th Aviation Company when it was destroyed on 27th January 1969.
The Otter was then serving with the Company's First Platoon, based at Marble Mountain, Da Nang. Bruce Boatner, the aircraft's crew chief, has written the following account of what happened: “On January 27th, 1969 we were on the south leg of the afternoon courier mission. That day 'Reliable 691' (the aircraft's callsign) was being flown by WO 'Andy' Sanford and Captain Dale Barber. 691 had the head of an Indian girl stencilled on the cowling and was sometimes called the 'Iroquois Princess'. It was mid-afternoon when we approached the vicinity of Quang Ngai and there was chatter on the radio about local ground fire. This was not unusual for those parts, except that in this case it appeared that the location referenced was off the departure end of the runway”.
“As we landed I noticed two Huey 'Slicks' parked on a grassy area near the approach end with their crews stripped to their T-shirts, waiting for the call to their next mission. We were on the ground for some time, so I wandered over to talk to them. They confirmed hearing the ground fire reports but didn't seem too concerned about it. Some poor fool was sweating through his last day in-country and was hitching a ride to Da Nang. Two large cardboard boxes containing all his belongings were loaded on board along with a full load of passengers. At Quang Ngai we frequently had to hold the ARVNs (South Vietnamese soldiers) off at gunpoint to prevent them from storming the plane, they were so desperate to get out. Quang Ngai was not the place to be when night came. They didn't seem to understand that the old Otter could not get off the ground with 75 people on board”. “As we taxied to the run-up area, I asked if the pilots had heard the reports of ground fire on the way in. They both said they had and I informed them that the Slick crews had heard them too. The tower had not mentioned a hazard when they cleared us for departure, but when queried, acknowledged that they had received unsubstantiated reports of ground fire off the end of the runway. During the run-up, I had a sense of dread (I later found that both pilots were feeling it as well). We did the world's longest run-up, checking everything twice, hoping something would blow up so we wouldn't have to take off. The pilots discussed the procedures for executing a high- performance take off as an evasive manoeuvre. They would keep clean flaps until we hit about 80-100 mph on the ground, then rotate and drop the flaps simultaneously”.
“It was a truly splendid take off and we were all in the process of mentally congratulating ourselves on our cleverness when there was a loud bang and the engine dropped dead. We were in a very nose high attitude and I could see the pilots both struggling to push the nose over and avoid going into a tail slide. I yelled to the passengers to brace themselves, that we were going in. I remember wondering if I had given my pre-flight emergency spiel and then feeling a sense of relief as all eight passengers executed a perfectly choreographed response. There was a momentary sensation of weightlessness, then the wind began whistling past the open window to my left. I estimate that we were at about five hundred feet when we got hit. Apparently the enemy had set up a machine gun in a perfect position directly off the end of the runway, so they could pick off a plane like a fish in a barrel”.
“One of the pilots managed to get a mayday call back to the tower. After a hard but otherwise near perfect three point landing in a rice patty we skidded into a dyke which tore off the engine and the left landing gear. The left wing then impacted the ground and bent up about two thirds of the way out.
The Otter stood up on its nose and felt like it was going to flip over on its back, but then slammed back down on its belly. For the slightest moment, there was complete and total silence. I opened the cargo doors and the passengers jumped out into mud up their knees. The crew's first concern was changing the radio frequencies and locating mailbags and other sensitive materials. We were sitting ducks in the mud, but taking refuge in an aluminium eggshell filled with several hundred gallons of 115/145 Avgas was not an attractive alternative, so we followed the passengers out.”
“After what seemed like a very long time, the sweet sound of approaching Hueys filled the air. Our old buddies from back at the field had heard the Mayday and had jumped in and cranked up. Both Hueys circled and opened fire on something we could not see, then one landed and picked up most of the passengers and the mail bags. The other Huey continued to circle and fire, then the first one returned and took the upper position while the other one landed to pick up the rest of us. The Huey leaped up as I was barely on board. Another plane from our Platoon flew in and took us back to Marble Mountain. It was a very odd feeling to be again sitting in an Otter and about to repeat the same departure that had just proved so traumatic, though this time we were under heavy escort by a couple of Cobra gunships. The next couple of weeks were terrible, being a crew chief without a ship, but I was eternally grateful when the Company assigned me to 'Reliable 53282', which proved to be a strong and faithful beast through the rest of my tour. 'Reliable 81691' was eventually retrieved by a Chinook and dropped off back at the airfield at Quang Ngai. As an ignominious ending, the fuselage was hoisted up on supports, to be used as jump practice for Vietnamese paratroopers. This sad spectacle was a daily momento for the Otter crews of the I Corps courier henceforth”. 81691 was deleted from the Army inventory and the wreck subsequently scrapped.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005)