DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 83

N778L
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Photo:

c/n 83

55-3245 • YV-2270P

N778L

X

• 55-3245 United States Army. Delivered 21-Jan-1956. Designated U-1A

Delivered to 937th Engineer Company (Aviation) for use on the Inter American Geodetic Survey (IAGS) Based at Howard AFB., Panama.

Army Garrison, Fort Eustis, VA. Nov 1970 and next month to the Army Garrison, Fort Eustis, VA.

Accident: Unknown location in Virginia. 04-May-1972. The report quotes, “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”.

Returned to Logistics Support Command, Panama Canal Zone, Aug-1972.

Headquarters, US Army, IAGS., Panama Canal Zone until 1975 when put into storage in Panama.

• YV-2270P Government of Venezuela. Registered Feb-1976. Canx 26th November 1985.

• Unknown Donated to Government of Saint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles, to be operated by the Foundation for Assistance in Distress, Saint Maarten. 26-Nov-1985.

• N778L Indep Line Inc., Carolina, Puerto Rico. Regd 28-Nov-1985. Converted to civilian configuration Sep-1986.

Accident: Isla Grande Airport, San Juan, Puerto Rico. 29-Oct-1986. The aircraft crashed on take-off killing the pilot and seriously injuring the other occupant. On a hot Caribbean day, with a temperature of 82F. the aircraft 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 on to a nearby road. The Otter was consumed by a post- crash fire. Subsequent computations showed that the maximum allowable gross weight of the aircraft was exceeded by 1,928 pounds.

Total time: 6,289 hours at time of accident.

Written off

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Otter 83 was delivered to the United States Army on 21 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). Being intended for use on survey work in jungle areas, these six Otters were painted in a white colour scheme with bright red wingtips and tail.

In January 1956 in “Operation Trade Wind”, all six Otters were delivered together. After leaving Downsview on 21 January, the six Otters flew south to Fort Belvoir, Virginia and then via Savannah, Georgia to Miami. They continued on to make a goodwill tour of the Caribbean and Central America, routing via Havana, Cuba-Cozumel, Mexico-Belize, British Honduras-Guatemala City-Managua, Nicaragua and San Jose, Costa Rica before arriving at Howard AFB., Panama, the 937th Engineer Company aircraft base. From there the Otters were assigned to individual country projects.

53245 was to serve on IAGS duties in Central and South America for the next 14 years, until placed in 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. It was noted at Fort Meade during October 1971. An incident was recorded on 4 May 1972 in Virginia. The summary of the report read: “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 1972, entrusted to the Logistics Support Command, Canal Zone.

In October 1972 53245 was assigned to Headquarters, US Army, Panama and was to remain “on its books” for the next few years, but the Otter in fact went on lease that month to the Government of Venezuela, alongside three Bell UH-1H helicopters. They were used on a government project called “Conquista del Sur” (CODESUR) which was a programme to map and develop very remote parts of the Venezuelan Amazon region. The Otter was given the registration YV-2270P, registered to the Government of Venezuela, and was used to support the Hueys, flying in fuel and supplies to the camps where they were working. The lease of the Otter officially terminated on 31 August 1974, as the CODESUR project was winding down, but the Otter remained in Venezuela.

Between December 1974 and August 1975 there was considerable discussion within the US government as to what should be done with these three helicopters and the Otter, with Secretary of Defence Henry Kissinger even involving himself with the fate of the humble Otter! As the U-1A was at that time being phased out of the Army inventory, as far as the Army was concerned the Venezuelans could buy it for $25,000. The Department of State thought the Venezuelans, an ally of the United States, might be somewhat upset if the US government took back the aircraft, and a decision was finally made in August 1975 to donate the three helicopters and the Otter to the Venezuelans.

This decision was implemented in January 1976 when 53245 was deleted from the US Army inventory and ownership transferred to the Venezuelan government, who allocated the aircraft to the Fuerza Aérea Venezolana (FAV), with military serial 2250. The Otter was still in the same colour scheme as when it had flown with the IAGS, all white with red engine cowling, red tail and wing tips. It would retain this scheme while operated by the FAV. It was initially operated by Grupo de Operaciones Especiales 10 (Special Operations Group 10), supporting its Huey helicopters, but was then transferred to Grupo Aereo de Transporte 5, based at El Libertador Air Base, where it was used as a personnel transport.

The Otter continued in use with the FAV until December 1983. The red paint was removed from the tail and it was given the registration PJ-SXM-P. It had been donated to the Government of Saint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles, to be operated by the “Foundation for Assistance in Distress, St.Maarten” as an air ambulance. It was to be based at the Princess Juliana International Airport, St.Maarten (whose airport code is SXM). On 11 December 1983, flown by Venezuelan pilots, it was ferried from El Libertador-Isla Margarita-Martinique to its new base at San Maarten. It was to be based there for the next two years.

By Sale Agreement dated 28 November 1985, the Island Territory of St.Maarten sold the Otter for $30,000 to a private company called Indep Line Inc., (owned by a Jamie Munoz) of Carolina, Puerto Rica to whom the Otter was registered as N778L. Puerto Rica is only a short distance to the west of St.Maarten and soon N778L was at its new base at San Juan. The next development was that in September 1986 the aircraft underwent a major overhaul and alterations at San Juan. 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 entered service with Indep Line but sadly it service was to be short lived.

Only a month later, on 29 October 1986, at 13:10 hours local time, the Otter crashed on take-off from the Isla Grande Airport, San Juan killing the pilot and seriously injuring the other occupant. It was carrying a cargo of fruit and vegetables. It was a typical 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 the post-crash 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 the crash.

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.