Otter 56 was delivered to the RCAF on 30th November 1954 with serial 3689. It went initially to No.6 Repair Depot, Trenton where it was retained as a reserve aircraft, before returning to DHC in January 1956 for incorporation of All Up Weight modifications. On completion of this work it was assigned in August 1956 to the Whitehorse, Yukon Station Flight, where it replaced Otter 3675 (33). It carried out its acceptance test flight at Whitehorse on 15th September '56 and entered service with the Flight. Its first rescue mission is recorded on13th November '56 when it flew from Whitehorse to Watson Lake to search for a USAF pilot who had bailed out of an F-84F in that area. The pilot was spotted and survival equipment was dropped to him by the Otter. The following day, 3689 attempted to land on the ice on Watson Lake but was unsuccessful and instead a para rescue team jumped to aid the downed pilot.
During March 1957 the Otter was involved on a lengthy search for a Bell 47 of Okanagan Helicopters CF-FDN, missing on a flight from Teslin to Telegraph Creek, working alongside the Flight's C-47 KG559 and Otter 3688, as well as C-47s 587 and 971 drafted in from 105 C&R Flight at Edmonton to assist in the search. A civilian Beaver and Cessna also took part in the search and Okanagan Helicopters sent up another Bell 47 from Vancouver to Whitehorse aboard a Pacific Western C-46 to assist as well. Otter 3689 was based at Teslin and searched all the valleys in the Teslin and Jennings River area. 3689 landed at the Indian Village to investigate reports of the Bell 47 having been in the area and checked local fuel caches. The two Otters, 3688 and 3689, performed a track crawl in the main valleys, flying under Dakotas 559 and 971 which were flying creeping line ahead searches. The missing Bell 47 helicopter was eventually spotted, having landed out of fuel beside the Inklin River and the pilot and his passenger were rescued.
During October 1957 3689 was involved in the search for Taylorcraft CF-JKJ and performed a track crawl along the Whitehorse-Haines Junction-Beloud Post-Dezadeash Lake route, thence via the highway back to Whitehorse. On 15/16th November '57 the Otter evacuated a patient from Telegraph Creek to Whitehorse. Other medevacs are recorded on 12th April '58 Whitehorse to Aishihik and 30th April '58 Whitehorse to Edmonton. The Otter continued to serve at Whitehorse until May 1958, when it went to DHC for work, and then to Air Material Command at Rockcliffe and then in June '58 it was assigned to 102 Communications & Rescue Unit at Trenton.
On 29th September 1958 during a daily inspection, a severe buckle was found at a joint between the rear and centre fuselage. Previous flying had been confined to pilot check outs with crosswind landings but all of the landings had been considered normal. Clearly, one of them had overstressed the aircraft. The damage was repaired by DHC at Downsview during October/November '58 and 3689 returned to 102 C&R Unit at Trenton in December 1958 where it continued to serve until October 1961 when it was re-assigned to the Station Flight at Churchill, Manitoba. It returned south to Trenton in February 1962 when the amphibious floats were taken off (and installed on 3674) and in May '62 it re-joined 102 C&R Unit at Trenton, until put into storage at Dunnville, Ontario with No.6 Repair Depot in January 1963. In September '63 it was transferred to the storage depot at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where it remained until January 1966 when it was assigned to 438 Squadron, St.Hubert, Montreal. It underwent depot level maintenance at DHC Downsview during April/May 1966 before re-joining 438 Squadron.
In May 1971 the Otter was deployed to CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick when it crashed on 2nd May, sadly killing five of the six on board. The accident report summarises as follows: “The aircraft was operating from a grass strip with a slight incline to the crest of a small hill, which is about the 500 to 600 foot mark and then declines in grade to the end of the runway, which is recorded to be 1,235 feet in length with 1,069 feet considered usable. The pilot commenced the take off with six persons on board, the aircraft became airborne for a short distance at about the 700 foot area, made contact with the runway at the 1,320 foot area, bounced striking a small tree, then an adjacent tree with the left wing, crossed the highway and came in contact with a pole supporting a heavy cable, then crashed and burned. The aircraft came to rest in a completely inverted position in soft ground.” “The pilot did not attain the correct attitude on the take-off run and consequently became airborne too near the stall. He continued the flight with the aircraft behind the power curve and failed to gain sufficient altitude. The hill on the airstrip obstructed the view of the take-off area. As the aircraft reached the crest during the take-off run and continued down the other side, a distinct line appeared due to the different texture of the grass. This line gave the impression of being the end of the runway. Two trees just beyond the over-run were the obstacles that were struck”. The Otter was destroyed in the crash. A monument was subsequently erected on Highway 7 at Petersville, Queens County, New Brunswick to the memory of Lt. Ronald Edward Ehrne of 401 Squadron, one of those sadly killed in the crash.
History courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).