Otter 83 was delivered to the United States Army on 21st January 1956 with serial 55-3245 (tail number 53245). It was one of the batch of six Otters delivered to the 937th Engineer Company (Aviation) for use on the Inter American Geodetic Survey (IAGS) as explained in relation to number 82. It continued to serve on IAGS duties for more than 14 years, until placed into storage in Panama in July 1970. In November 1970 it was flown back to the United States, arriving at the Army Garrison, Fort Eustis, Virginia but the following month it continued on to the Flight Detachment, Fort Meade, Maryland where it was to be based for some time in the operational support airlift role.
An incident was recorded on 4th May 1972 in Virginia. The summary of the report reads: “Insufficient rate of climb to clear trees, so aborted the take-off. The aircraft slid one thousand feet into a gravel-covered over-run until the main wheels entered a large section of badly deteriorated concrete”. That incident ended its flying career for a short time, but it was repaired at a depot in July 1972 after which it was flown back to Panama in August '72 and entrusted to the Logistics Support Command, Canal Zone. By that stage, the IAGS had relinquished most of its aircraft and was winding down its activities. Nevertheless, in October 1972 53245 was assigned to Headquarters, US Army, IAGS and became the very last Otter to be operated by the IAGS. It continued flying on IAGS duties until September 1975 when it was again put into storage in Panama.
It was deleted from the US Army inventory in January 1976 and the following month was transferred to the Government of Venezuela and registered YV-2270P, although what use was made of it in Venezuela is unknown. The registration was cancelled on 26th November 1985 when the Otter was “donated to the Government of Saint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles, to be operated by the Foundation for Assistance in Distress, Saint Maarten”. Two days later however by a Sale Agreement dated 28th November 1985, the Island Territory of St.Maarten sold the Otter for $30,000 to a private company called Indep Line Inc., of Carolina, Puerto Rico to whom the Otter was registered N778L. The next development was that in September 1986 the aircraft underwent major overhaul and alterations at San Juan, Puerto Rico and was restored to flying condition. A cargo interior was installed and the “cockpit door jettison gear” removed, this being a mandatory modification to convert a military U-1A to civilian DHC-3 configuration.
N778L then entered service with Indep Line Inc but sadly its service was to be short lived. Only a month later, on 29th October 1986, at 1310 hours local time, the Otter crashed on take-off from the Isla Grande Airport, San Juan, Puerto Rico killing the pilot and seriously injuring the other occupant. It was a typically hot Caribbean day, with a temperature of 82F. Witnesses stated that the Otter used most of the runway to take-off, reached an altitude of sixty feet, then pulled up to clear an embankment. However, the aircraft struck a tall palm tree and crashed beside Baldorioti de Castro Avenue, near an intersection where it merged with another road. The Otter was consumed by a postcrash fire.
The cargo was removed from what was left of the aircraft and weighed. Computations showed that the maximum allowable gross weight of the aircraft was exceeded by 1,928 pounds. The Otter had 6,289 hours on the airframe at the time of its destruction.
Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).