DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 174

55-3312 for parachute drop at Weston Airfield, near Dublin, Eire.
Photos: Unknown photographer © 16-17 September 1961 - George Floods Collection - via Bernard Mac Namara and Karl E. Hayes
N90754 in earlier blue scheme.
Photo: Unknown photographer © 08 February 1975 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
N90754 at Boeing Field - KBFI, Seattle, Washington.
Photo: Peter Kirkup /Aviation Archives © July 1976 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
Photo: Unknown photographer © 1976 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
C-GFTZ still a piston Otter, at Kelowna - CYLW, British Columbia.
Photo: Neil Aird © 13 May 2001
C-GFTZ of Alpine Lakes Air, at Tyhee Lake, British Columbia.
Photo: Fred Hovestad © 22 June 2016
Photos: Ken Hurford © 10 July 2018
HP1870 at Courtenay Airpark, British Columbia.
Photos: Bob Kobzey © 03 December 2018
HP1870 departs Tobìas Bolaños International - MRPV, San Jose, Costa Rica.
Photo: Jorge Rafael Solano Rodriguez © 14 December 2018
N116TL gets admired as it transits Whitehorse, Yukon.
Photos: Kyle G. Cameraon © 04 September 2020
N116TL safe in Anchorage, Alaska.
Photo: Lambert de Gavre © 06 September 2020 - via Karl E. Hayes
N116TL still in winter footware.
Photo: Fred Wallis © 01 April 2021 - Aird Archives
N116TL step taxi at Lake Hood, from webcam.
Screen capture: StreamTime Live © 11:44 AKDT 05 May 2022

c/n 174

55-3312 • N90574 • C-GFTZ • HP1870



55-3312 United States Army. Delivered 14-Nov-1956. Designated as U-1A.

Initially assigned to 3rd Aviation Company, Fort Riley, KS.

Jul-1957. Moved with the unit when it deployed to Illesheim, Germany until Nov-1999.

Nov-1959. 708th Maintenance Battalion, Germany.

May-1964. Army Aeronautical Depot Maintenance Center (ARADMAC) Depot, Corpus Christi, TX., where it was prepared for service in Vietnam.

Dec-1965, 54th Aviation Company, Vung Tau, Vietnam. It was flown there on board a USAF Douglas C-124 Globemaster.

May-1966. Army Aeronautical Depot Maintenance Center (ARADMAC) Depot, Corpus Christi, TX., for maintenance.

Jul-1966. Re-joined the 54th Aviation Company.

Mar-1970. 166th Transportation Company, Bien Hao, Vietnam to be prepared for shipment back to the USA.

Jul-1970. Arrived at Sharpe Army Depot, Stockton, CA., where it remained in storage until February 1973 and put up for sale.

 N90574 Harold J. Hansen purchased the aircraft, collected it at Stockton and trucked it to his facility at Boeing Field, Seattle, where it was rebuilt and civilianised.

 N90574 Leased to Woods Air Service, Palmer, AK. Dates unknown.

Accident: Lake Hood Anchorage, AK. 21-May-1975. The aircraft had taken off from the gravel strip beside Lake Hood into the adjacent International airport to pick up passengers., Even before picking up the passengers. Subsequent investigation assessed that the aircraft was some 484 pounds’ overweight and took off with incorrect trim setting. The aircraft stalled and crashed a short distance from the end of the strip. The pilot, who had limited experience on the aircraft was killed and the aircraft caused a serious fire at the crash scene.

Note: Aircraft returned to Hansen’s facility at Boeing Field, Seattle, WA., and rebuilt by Jul-1976.

N90574 Leased to Harold's Air Service Inc., Galena, AK. A company owned by a native American, Harold Esmailka.

Accident: Eureka AK. 29th September 1976. On the delivery flight to Eureka the pilot stalled the aircraft in the landing approach sustaining serious damage on hitting the ground. Again repaired by Hansen before finally entering service with Harold’s Air Service.

 N90574 Company renamed Friendship Air Alaska circa 1987

N90574 Lake Clark Air, Port Alsworth, AK. Regd Nov-1987. Owned by Glen R. Alsworth.

Accident: Bonanza Hills. AK. 11-Oct-1988. During the landing roll, on a small gravel strip, the left main gear encountered snow along the runway edge. The Otter veered sharply to the left and off the runway, causing substantial damage. No injuries.

 N90574 Warren Le Fave, Purchased Dec-1999.

Note: Aircraft collected and flown Port Alsworth, AK., to Kelowna, BC., where it received a complete overhaul from AOG Air Support.

 C-GFTZ Kluane Airways Ltd., Whitehorse, YT. Regd 21-Jun-2000. Owned by Warren Le Fave. Canx 14-Jun-2002.

Total time: 14,625 hrs.

C-GFTZ Leased to Alkan Air Ltd., Whitehorse, YT. Regd 14-Jun-2002. Canx 01-Nov-2002. Regd 23-May-2005. Canx 01-Jun-2004.

Power plant. Re-engined as a Texas Turbine Otter by Kal-Air, Vernon, BC. Mar-2004.

C-GFTZ Saltwater West Enterprises Ltd., Smithers, BC. Regd 17-Jun-2004. Operated by Alpine Lakes Air Ltd., Smithers, BC.

Total time: 18,511 hours at Nov-2014.

Modifications: Baron STOL kit, Baron Cargo Net, Yukon Cargo Door, KAL Air extended fuel (+44 US gal), Outback Aviation STC new high back seats with Brown Line Track installation.

Equipment. Modified to use Wheel gear, DHC wheel skis and Floats. 8100 Intaero floats with two large hatches, (totally overhauled with new top and side skins in 2004). New style heavy duty “Plumber” attachment gear (new in 2004).

• HP1870 noted at Couertenay Airpark, BC., prior to delivery to customer in Panama. See narrative below for details of delivery flight.

• N116TL IS Aviation Holdings LLC., Belvedere Property Managment, New York, NY. Regd 14-Aug-2020.

• N116TL Todrillo Mountain Aviation LLC., New York, NY. Regd 22-Feb-2021.


Otter 174 was delivered to the United States Army on 14th November 1956 with serial 55-3312 (tail number 53312). It first served with the 3rd Aviation Company, Fort Riley, Kansas and moved with the unit when it deployed to Germany in July 1957, establishing at Illesheim. The 3rd Aviation Company disbanded in November 1959. 53312 remained based in Europe, being assigned to the 708th Maintenance Battalion, Germany. The first ever visit of a US Army Otter to Ireland occurred on 15th September 1961 when 53312 arrived at Dublin Airport, flying in from Coleman Barracks, Mannheim, Germany. It brought in a skydiving team for a local airshow, but they were regrettably prevented from performing by violent westerly gales. The Otter returned to Mannheim on 17th September '61. The Otter was noted flying from Brussels to Birmingham to Bad Kreuznach, Germany on 6th July 1963. Its European deployment came to an end in May 1964 when it was transported to the ARADMAC Depot, Corpus Christi, Texas where it was prepared for service in Vietnam.            

On arrival in Vietnam in December 1965, flown there on board a USAF C-124 Globemaster, it joined the 54th Aviation Company. By May 1966 it was back at the ARADMAC Depot for work to be done on it, re-joining the 54th Aviation Company in July 1966, where it was to serve for the next four years. It is mentioned in the unit's history for September 1968. The 54th Aviation Company had a tasking to base an Otter in Bangkok, Thailand and 53312 was the aircraft in question in September '68, when it blew an engine. Parts had to be flown from Tan Son Nhut to Bangkok by USAF C-7A Caribou to repair the Otter.

In March 1970 53312 arrived at the 166th Transportation Company to be prepared for shipment home. It arrived at the Sharpe Army Depot, Stockton, California in July 1970 where it remained in storage until February 1973, when it was put up for disposal. It was one of two ex “Big Daddy” (the 54th Aviation Company's radio call sign) Otters purchased by Harold J. Hansen, who collected both aircraft at Stockton and trucked them to his facility at Boeing Field, Seattle, where they were rebuilt and civilianised. 53312 was registered to Harold J. Hansen as N90574 and the other Otter he had acquired, 81692, was registered to him as N90575. Both were painted in most attractive white colour schemes with blue trim and were put up for sale. N90574 was noted at Boeing Field on 8th February 1975. Both Otters went to Alaska, where Mr. Hansen’s refurbished Otters always found a ready market.

N90574 was leased by Harold Hansen to Woods Air Service of Palmer, Alaska, who ran a fuel hauling and general charter service. It was not long in operation before it came to grief, in quite a spectacular accident at Anchorage. On 21st May 1975 at 0905 hours that morning, the Otter was taking off from the 2,200-foot gravel strip beside Lake Hood, adjacent to the Anchorage International Airport. Only the pilot was on board for the very short flight to the International Airport, where he was to pick up three passengers for a flight to Aniak. The 35-year-old pilot had 2,768 hours’ total time, but only twenty in the Otter, which was new to the Woods Air Service fleet. The flight was a charter for Resources Associates of Alaska and also carried a load of food and fuel. The Otter, it was subsequently determined, was already 484 pounds over its maximum gross weight and took off with an incorrect trim setting.

Shortly after take- off, N90574 stalled and crashed into the United Lumber Company yard at Jewel Lake and Spenard Road, about three quarters of a mile from the end of the Lake Hood strip.  The Otter clipped a 30-foot radio tower on top of a National Guard building, then impacted the yard, sadly killing the pilot. No one in the lumber yard was injured, but the ensuing fire damaged five cars, two of which were destroyed, as was a stock of lumber and the fence of the yard. According to a newspaper report: “Employees at the lumber yard next to the crash site watched the white and silver plane descending and saw the craft apparently veer to avoid hitting buildings there. Wreckage was scattered across a 60-foot circle, with the Otter's tail section propped intact against a 25-foot-high stack of plywood”. The engine was taken by the NTSB to Air Power Overhaul Co for tear down and inspection. The subsequent accident report cited: “Inadequate pre-flight preparation and/or planning and failure to obtain/maintain flying speed” as the causes of the crash. Contributory factors were the pilot's lack of familiarity with the aircraft, an improperly loaded aircraft and an incorrect trim setting.

Despite the severity of the crash, which surely would have been the end of a lesser aircraft, the wreckage of the Otter was brought back by Harold Hansen to his facility at Boeing Field, Seattle and rebuilt. The Otter was completely repaired by July 1976 and had been repainted in a red overall colour scheme with white trim. He then arranged to lease the aircraft to Harold's Air Service Inc. of Galena, Alaska. Despite the similarity of name, this operator had nothing to do with Harold Hansen, but was a charter company owned by a native American, Harold Esmailka. The Otter was on its delivery flight from Seattle to Galena when it came to grief again, yet another stall! N90574 had flown up along the Alaska-Canada highway, and fuel stopped at Northway, Alaska. On 29th September 1976, with just the pilot on board (aged 54, with 14,500 hours’ total time, but only 450 on the Otter) N90574 took off from Northway and was on its final approach to Eureka, Alaska when it stalled, sustaining serious damage. The pilot had “failed to obtain/maintain flying speed”. Yet again the Otter was repaired by Harold Hansen, before finally entering service with Harold's Air Service, based at Galena.

Harold Esmailka is a very famous bush aviator in Alaska. When the Otter joined his fleet, the operation was quite small. It joined Islander N22JA, a Cessna 206 and three Cessna 207s. Harold's Air Service had a contract from Wien Air Alaska to haul mail from its Galena base to outlying villages, and the Otter was engaged on this work. The Otter served with Harold's Air Service for the next ten years, rendering sterling service out of its Galena base with no further mishaps. Over the years, the fleet expanded and by 1986 had 28 aircraft including a Navajo, Bandeirante, Cessna Caravans and even a Turbo DC-3. Services were flown to 63 villages from Galena. In 1987 the company was re- named Friendship Air Alaska and in November of that year, the Otter was sold.

The new owner of the Otter was Lake Clark Air of Port Alsworth, Alaska one hundred and eighty roadless miles southwest of Anchorage. Owned by Glen R. Alsworth the company provided an air taxi service and at that stage also operated a Beech Bonanza, Cessna U206 and Piper Navajo.

When it was first acquired by Lake Clark Air, the Otter was used to haul freight to mining company camps out in the bush. To quote from the book “Bush pilots of Alaska” by Fred Hirschmann:” The winter months reduce Glen's air fleet to serving local residents, transporting them between the few nearby Indian and Eskimo villages, hauling freight from Anchorage or emergency flights. But with the long daylight hours of spring, activity accelerates. Between May and October, Glen's aircraft fly almost continuously. Some days he makes three or more round trips to Anchorage, hauling sport fishermen, hunters, prospectors, sightseers or freight into a region best known for its sport fishing and hunting. With no overland or water access into Lake Clark, its small population is totally dependent on aircraft for fuel, groceries, building materials and transportation”. The book contains a particularly fine photograph of N90574 resplendent in its red colour scheme with white trim at Pear Lake, in Lake Clark National Reserve, with hunters of caribou and moose loading their gear into the Otter.

One mishap occurred in the course of this work. On 11th October 1988 the Otter was landing on a gravel strip at Bonanza Hills. During the landing roll, the left main gear encountered snow along the runway edge. The Otter veered sharply to the left and off the runway, causing substantial damage.

The “Bush Pilots of Alaska” book also contains another fine photograph of the crashed Otter, in a somewhat forlorn state in the snow, with its left main gear folded under the fuselage and its propeller fallen off. As the book says: “Except for damaged pride, no one was injured. After three days of field repairs, the Otter was flown to Soldotna for a complete overhaul”.

After a time, the mining support work dried up and the Otter was then used primarily to transport fishermen during the summer months. The insurance for the aircraft became increasingly expensive, until the operation was no longer economical. N90574 was put up for sale, and sold in December 1999 to Warren Le Fave, who collected the Otter at Port Alsworth and flew it to Kelowna, BC., where it received a complete overhaul from AOG Air Support, the insertion of a large cargo door and repainting in a yellow and brown colour scheme. In June 2000, on completion of the work, the Otter was registered C-GFTZ to Kluane Airways Ltd., of Whitehorse, Yukon, the operating company of Warren Le Fave.

Kluane Airways also operates a Beaver and a Hughes 500 helicopter in support of the Inconnu Lodge, a fishing and recreational resort in the Yukon, 185 miles east of Whitehorse. As its website proclaims: “The lodge offers its guests a vast variety of activities - heli-hiking, canoeing, kayaking, gold panning and some of the best fishing in Canada's North. Partnered with Inconnu Lodge is Kluane Airways, offering flights to the Cirque of the Unclimbables in the Northwest Territories for rock climbing”. The Otter remained parked at the AOG facility at Kelowna for a time, but was used to support the Lodge during the summer of 2001 and was then advertised for sale or lease in November 2001. At that stage it had 14,625 hours’ total airframe time, and had an asking price of US$525,000. It was on EDO 7170 floats with Baron extensions and bumpers, Baron STOL kit, the enlarged cargo door, nine new passenger seats, a new aluminium cargo floor and new interior.  The Otter was not sold, but instead went on lease to Alkan Air of Whitehorse, Yukon to whom it was registered on 14th June 2002.

Alkan Air had during the 1980s flown Otter CF-AYR (436), which they had sold in June 1988. Now with the acquisition of C-GFTZ on lease, the company returned to Otter operations. During the summer months, the Otter was used to fly in guests to Mr. Le Fave's Inconnu Lodge, as well as to fly big game hunters around the Yukon. It was parked up for the winter of 2002/03, but was again in use by Alkan Air for the same purposes during the summer 2003. In addition, it supported an emerald mining operation at Regal Ridge, some 160 miles east of Whitehorse, flying in fuel drums and groceries and crew changes for the mine. It continued in use during the winter of 2002/2003.  C- GFTZ arrived at Vernon, BC in mid-March 2004 to be re-engined as a Texas Turbine Otter by Kal-Air, following which it was registered to Saltwater West Enterprises Ltd., Smithers, BC, on 17th June 2004. It is operated by Alpine Lakes Air Ltd., of Smithers, replacing C-FMPY (324), the turbine Otter which they operated up to March 2004.

C-GFTZ was advertised for sale in August 2006 through the agency of C&S Enterprises. It was advertised as having at that stage 16,050 hours total time, with the Garrett engine conversion and on Intaero 8100 floats. It did not sell however but continued in service with Alpine Lakes Air. It was mentioned on CADORS for an incident on 24 September 2011 at Johanson Lake, BC. JRCC reported that an ELT beacon on the Otter was going off and two aircraft were tasked to investigate. Prior to the Otter getting airborne, the beacon was turned off and the pilot called his dispatch to tell them it was a false alarm.  The Otter suffered another false ELT signal on 6 November 2014 at Smithers, BC.

In late November 2015 the Otter was again advertised for sale by Alpine Lakes Air, as having 18,511 hours and with 3,361 hours on its turbine engine. It was on wheels or wheel-skis or 8100 floats. It had the BARON STOL conversion and Yukon cargo door. It was again advertised for sale in November 2016, by which stage its total time had increased to 19,050 hours. It was to be advertised for sale for only 30 days, so it would appear the company was just testing the market. It did not sell but continued in use by Alpine Lakes Air.

This continues to be the position for summer 2018. The company’s website proclaims: “This legendary Canadian built aircraft is highly modified from its original. It operates on floats from May 15 to October 31 and on wheel-skis from 1 November to May 15. It operates out of Smithers, BC., all months of the year”. In addition to the Otter Alpine Lakes Air also flies a Cessna 185 and a Cessna 206.

C-GFTZ continued in service with Alpine Lakes Air until the end of the summer 2018 season, when it was sold. It arrived at the facility of AP Aviation Services at Courtenay, BC on 16 October 2018, where it was to be prepared for its new owner. It was noted there during late October with the wings detached, receiving an extensive overhaul. Its Intaero floats were removed and replaced with Wipair 8000 amphibious floats. It retained its existing colour scheme but was re-registered as HP-1870. It departed Courtenay on 8 December 2018 on delivery to Panama.

Its full delivery routing is not known, but having passed through Seattle it flew across the country to Indiana where some material had to be collected. It then headed west and the final stages of its delivery brought it through Tapachula (Mexico)-Ilopango (El Salvador)-San Jose, Costa Rica (Tobias Bolanos Airport)- to Aeropuerto Internacional Marcos A. Gelabert, Panama City where it arrived on 21 December 2018.  The flight plan for the delivery flight gave the operator as “Pearl Airways”.

It transpired that the Otter had been bought by an American company to service a resort in Panama. Louis Bacon, an American hedge fund manager and billionaire conservationist, was developing a private marine sanctuary and resort off Panama’s Pacific Coast, to open in January 2019. It is known as the Islas Secas Reserve and Lodge and its website proclaims as follows: “Located on an archipelago of 14 private islands twenty miles off the coast, the property’s nine stylish and elegant villas, called “casitas”, blend seamlessly with the lush and pristine landscape. An ocean wilderness where the ultimate sustainable barefoot luxury meets adventure at every turn”. The Otter was to be based at David, Panama to service the lodge.

The Otter could not go into operation until Panamanian licences were obtained, and after the resort opened in January 2019 travel for guests from the mainland was by  boat, an hour’s trip. However all was ready by early May and HP-1870 went into action.   Writing in a website entitled “How to Spend It”, a lady called Alice wrote of her experiences, she being apparently the first person to use the Otter and her trip starting on 6 May 2019. Here is an extract from what she wrote:

“My speciality is landing on beaches” says my pilot Will Holladay reassuringly as we take off from the runway in Panama City. To the right is the Canal while to the left its rush hour, a messy queue of container ships waiting to pass through. We head west for the Gulf of Chiriqui, cruising between coast and mountains, before Holladay hangs a left out to sea. Arriving at Islas Secas is dramatic. Seemingly out of nowhere tufts of jungle meet the water, a cluster of 14 islands sleeping just eighteen guests. We land by a floating pontoon and I’m blasted by the tropical salty-moist-earth smell that accompanies 35 degrees and 85% humidity. One of the Islas Secas fleet of boats awaits to power us through the jade-coloured water to the arrival jetty.” 

She went on to describe the facility and its many pleasures. Next day she went on a sight-seeing flight in the Otter, around Volcan Baru volcano and subsequent flights brought her to Simca Island and to the Coiba National Park.  “We land in a bay off the north of Coiba and I lower myself into an inflatable kayak, paddling around the beautiful place. Then it is back to the Otter for a return to Panama City. After five days of wriggling in and out of the cockpit, I’ve grown fond of my amphibian ride, coolly delivering incredible access to remote mountains or open waters in a matter of hours”.

The Otter continued to support the Islas Secas resort in Panama until it was replaced by a DHC-6 Twin Otter HP-1952, and was then re-deployed to Alaska.  On 14 August 2020 it was re-registered as N116TL to I. S. Aviation Holdings LLC., c/o Belvedere Property Management, New York City and set off on the long ferry flight from Panama to Alaska. Unfortunately the full  routing is unknown but on 1 September 2020 it passed through Medford, Oregon en route to Bellingham, Washington. On 3 September it flew Bellingham-Abbotsford-Prince George and the following day continued on to Whitehorse in the Yukon. From there it flew to King Ranch Airport, Sutton, Alaska then to Anchorage, where it was tied down in outside storage at Lake Hood for a time.  Soon however it was back in service, on wheel-skis.  Louis Bacon, the owner of the Islas Secas resort in Panama also owns the Todrillo Mountain Lodge in Alaska and from then on the Otter would fly for this lodge.  The Lodge is on Lake Judd in the Todrillo Range, a forty minute flight west of Anchorage. The Lodge is only accessible by bush plane and the nearest departure point for the Lodge is Skwentna.  The Lodge is open year round and during winter 2020 / 2021 the Otter could be seen on flight trackers plying between the Lodge, Skwentna and Anchorage.

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.