Otter 96 was delivered to Aigle Azur Extreme Orient on 14th March 1956 registered F-BHEK. It was one of three Otters delivered during March / May '56 to this French charter operator based in Saigon, Vietnam although the Otters flew out of Vientiane, Laos. The cost of a standard Otter in those days was $86,500 Canadian and the company paid an additional $11,300 to have the aircraft packed, taken by railfreight to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then by ship to Bangkok, Thailand where the Otter was re-assembled and flown to its new base at Vientiane.
Laos had been a French colony but following the Indochina War of 1946-1954 it became independent. An international agreement signed in Geneva in July 1954 on the cessation of hostilities in Indo China established an International Commission for Supervision and Control, to supervise the armistice in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. A French Liaison Mission assisted the Commission in carrying out its work and this Mission was responsible for transport arrangements. Otter F-BHEK had been chartered by the French Liaison Mission to fly for the Commission, in the course of which it crashed on 18th July 1957. It had 1,528 hours on the airframe at the time of the crash.
The flying schedule for that day required the Otter to depart from its base at Vientiane at 07:00 hours, operating flight AE810 to Sam Neua, a small jungle strip located in mountainous terrain, carrying 1,200 litres of aviation fuel in six drums, for use by the Commission's helicopter which was based at Sam Neua. The Otter would then bring the empty drums back to Vientiane, and in the afternoon would operate another such flight to Boun Neua. The Otter, with just the pilot on board and his load of fuel, took off on schedule and climbed up to 9,000 feet for the cruise, before making his approach at 09:55 hours to the 600 metre grass strip at Sam Neua, which was “muddy, wet and slippery” and was located at the bottom of a valley, surrounded by high hills. As there was extensive
cloud cover over the valley, with heavy rain, a go-around was not possible so the pilot was committed to the landing.
Just as the pilot was on short finals, a large horse “suddenly started crossing the airstrip in front of me”. He opened the throttle, flew over the horse and landed some way down the strip. Unfortunately the wheels locked and braking action was nil. The Otter skidded on the wet grass, overshot the runway and came to rest in a ravine at the end of the strip. The pilot was not injured and damage to the Otter was mainly to the rear fuselage, which was buckled and twisted and the tailwheel telescoped into the fuselage. If that was all the damage, the aircraft would have been repairable but considerable further damage was done extracting F-BHEK from the ravine.
First, the wings were taken off, and then the fuselage was pulled out of the ravine with the help of bullocks, whose harness were fixed to the main gear. All of this was “not without its consequences” and by the time the Otter had been brought back to the airstrip, the damage to it was much worse. As the airfield was not long enough to permit the landing of a larger aircraft to fly the Otter out for repair, it was deemed a total loss and after the engine and all useful parts had been salvaged, the Otter was scrapped. Aigle Azur's next problem was that its insurers refused to pay up, citing a long list of breaches of policy conditions, including “use of an airstrip unopened to public air traffic; transportation of dangerous matter; lack of flight plan for secrecy of movement”. Legal opinion was taken but the chances of successfully suing the insurance company were not considered good. Accordingly, Aigle Azur claimed their losses against the French Liaison Mission which had chartered the Otter, and eventually succeeded in recovering $82,602 which they used to buy a replacement Otter, F-BGJU (227).
Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).