20 -  303


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Otter number 20 was one of the first six of ten DHC-3 delivered to the Royal Norwegian Air Force, as explained in relation to number 18. The batch of six were delivered in crates by ship and formally handed over on 2nd March 1954, arriving Oslo Harbour 8th April '54, being assembled at Kjeller Air Base near Oslo. The Otter took serial 5320. In May '54 the Otter was assigned to the Air Force Flying School at Vaernes Air Base for the training of pilots and mechanics. In July '54 it was with the Communications Flight at Vaernes and on 15th November '54 it moved north to the Communications Flight at Bodo Air Base, which became designated as 7193 Stotteving (Support Flight). It was to remain based at Bodo for the rest of its military career with the Royal Norwegian Air Force, with periodic visits to the Horten Marine Base for maintenance.

In July 1960 it was allocated, together with Otter 21, for duty with the United Nations in the
Belgian Congo. It was painted white with titles “United Nations/Nations Unies” in blue on each side of the fuselage and the UN flag on the tail fin. At this stage, the Otter had total time on the airframe of 2,975 hours. On 24th July 1960 it was flown from Bodo to Gardermoen Air Base, Oslo and on 30th July '60 was airlifted from there to Leopoldville in the Congo on board a USAF C-124 Globemaster.

Having arrived in the Congo, the Otter joined the UN Air Wing, Support Squadron, being allocated serial 303. It was one of a number of Otters with the Squadron, which was based at N'djili United Nations Air Transport Base, Leopoldville but the aircraft were regularly detached to other airfields in support of UN operations. The Otters, flown and maintained by Swedish UN personnel, were used as general support aircraft and for reconnaissance, supply and evacuation missions.

In May 1964 Otter 303 was temporarily based at Kamembe airfield, Bukavu. Some 100 kms south of Bukavu was a Swedish missionary station named Lemera, where 20 Scandinavians lived and worked with hundreds of young African students. The station was surrounded by rebel troops but guarded by Congolese National Army soldiers. On 12th and 13th May, a 100 hour inspection was carried out on 303 at Kamembe airfield, after which it flew some visual reconnaissance missions.

Frequently, people were seen firing at the Otter from the ground. On 22nd May '64 the Scandinavian personnel at the Lemera mission station were to be evacuated by an army convoy of trucks coming from Bukavu. The Otter was tasked with overseeing the operation from above. 303 took off, piloted by Gunnar Elg, with Gosta Kersmark as flight engineer in the right seat and four passengers (one radio operator and three observers) in the cabin. They followed the road southwards at an altitude of 1,200 feet, which they believed to be a safe height. They overflew Luvungi airstrip, and five kilometres further on were taking a look at a parked lorry when one of its occupants took a shot at them with an automatic weapon. The bullet struck the Otter with a loud bang and seemingly severed an oil line, as the oil pressure fell to zero. The engineer throttled back but the RPM remained the same, indicating that the oil pressure system connected to the propeller adjustment had been affected. As the Otter had a hydromatic propeller, he could neither reduce the RPM nor stop the oil leak. They headed down following the road, which was straight but narrow. The pilot decided he would try and land on the road. After some two minutes, the engine failed, accompanied by violent vibrations. They were then 30 feet over the road. Take-off flap had been selected during the descent, but just before landing the pilot pumped the flaps to the landing position. The Otter touched down on the road at a speed of 70 knots and rolled about 150 feet until the starboard wing was torn away on striking a tree. The aircraft left the road and lost the landing gear going over a ditch, before coming to rest. The engine was knocked off and thrown thirty feet forward. 303 was a complete wreck, but its occupants miraculously escaped with only a few cuts and bruises. The six crew congregated on the road and then set off at a brisk pace towards the convoy. The group was over-flown by a Piper Apache aircraft, whose pilot waved and notified Kamembe Tower of the mishap. At times, the six hid in the undergrowth when rebel troops were encountered. Eventually they met up with the convoy and were taken to safety, after a most frightening ordeal.

At the time of the crash, the Otter had 4,389 hours on the airframe. On 25th May '64 United
Nations C-47 serial 215 took off from Bukavu and flew over the downed Otter, which was judged to be beyond economical repair. A salvage attempt was not made due to the presence of hostile forces in the area. The Board of Inquiry into the incident recommended that the Otter be written off the UN inventory and the remains handed over to the Congolese government.

History courtesy of Karl E Hayes from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005)