5 - CF-GBY


Serial Number






Year of Manufacture

 Delivered to Wardair 2.6.53











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Otter number 5 was delivered to Maxwell Ward, one of Canada's best known bush pilots, on 2nd June 1953 registered CF-GBY. Just as that other veteran bush pilot Arthur Fecteau acquired an Otter (number 3) to open up service to remote parts of Quebec, so too did Max Ward acquire an Otter to do likewise in the Northwest Territories, from his base at Yellowknife.


After service with the RCAF as an instructor pilot, Max Ward formed his first company, Polaris Charter Company Ltd, in 1946, its first aircraft being a De Havilland Fox Moth, based at Yellowknife. The following year he went into partnership and founded Yellowknife Airways, which was not successful and ceased in 1949. A determined individual and a practical businessman pilot, Max Ward determined to try again, and to acquire an Otter after he received a demonstration flight at Downsview. This was despite the $100,000 price tag, a huge sum for a start-up operation. As he later wrote: “I lusted after that aircraft something terrible. It could carry 14 passengers or two thousand pounds of freight, could go anywhere, had a fair turn of speed, handled well and, I came to discover, would revolutionize not only flying in the North but the way of life in the North itself”.


With the assistance of one of his customers (a mining company which put up $25,000) and of the Canadian Government's Business Development Bank, Mr Ward purchased CF-GBY and took delivery on 2nd June 1953. It was immediately set to work, flying from its Yellowknife base. With the Otter he could fly four-by-eight foot plywood sections, the first aircraft in the North that could carry such bulky cargo into short strips. He flew them into remote settlements and mining sites, enabling modern modular buildings to be constructed for the first time in the region, much to the benefit of the inhabitants and those working the mines.


Many other benefits flowed from the Otter. As one commentator noted: “Suddenly, miners and prospectors could afford the very basics of life. Proper framing materials made possible bigger tents in which a man could stand up on a board floor and the availability of cots consigned the normal bedding of pine boughs back to the outdoors. The flat floors made good solid tables useable for the first time in mining camps. Stoves that could burn safely all night made their appearance in places where overnight temperatures routinely dropped to -50F. Not to mention foodstuffs – prospectors could now eat food that came in neither cans nor sacks”. CF-GBY certainly did make its mark on life in the Canadian North.


Wardair went on to acquire three more Otters, CF-IFP (73) in June 1955 and CF-ITF (89) in February 1956, both new from the factory, and CF-JRS (110), a second hand aircraft acquired in 1958. These Otters serviced the Northwest Territories and the Canadian Arctic, even up to the High Arctic islands of Alert Bay, Isaacson, Mould Bay and Eureka. The movement of doctors, nurses, patients, missionaries, prospectors, geologists, as well as freight (building materials, furs etc) formed the bulk of the work. There were also specialized operations such as wildlife surveys. Max Ward flew dairy cows from Hay River on lower Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife and on another occasion flew an upright piano strapped to the floats of the Otter. As Mr Ward subsequently wrote “In short, we would fly anything anywhere, and frequently did”.


Another major source of work for the Otters was assisting in the construction of the DEW-Line radar sites. In September 1957 CF-GBY was engaged on this task, flying between Yellowknife and Pelly Bay (Site 26), bringing in construction materials and supplies, an eight hour flight with an en-route stop five hours after take-off to refuel. It was occasionally many hours late in arriving, causing the USAF to become most upset. It was explained that there were often difficulties and delays in refuelling en route and sometimes with atmospheric conditions it was just not possible to make radio contact to advise of a delayed arrival. One such occasion was on 15th December 1957, en-route from Fort Simpson to Wrigley, eta 1920Z, although the Otter ended up at Fort Norman at 2318Z. The Otter was still active on DEW Line work the following year, when it was noted by the SAR authorities on 3rd April 1958 flying from Cape Perry to Coppermine with some communications difficulties.


A few weeks later, it was badly damaged in a storm. On 16th April 1958 GBY landed at DEW Line site 37, at a base called Fox 4 near Baird Peninsula while on a flight from Clyde River to Pangnirtung on Baffin Island, when it was learned that other sites along the route were fogged in. The weather was good at the time of landing, with only a light wind. The Otter was securely tied down, with two drums on each wing and two on the tail, facing the prevailing wind. During the early hours of the following morning, winds of 75 kts were recorded, which continued throughout the day. Attempts were made to get to the aircraft but due to the wind and the blowing snow, it was impossible to descend to the airstrip from the living accommodation four miles away. The Otter was blown from the pad where it was parked across large rocks strewn over the rough parking area surrounding the airstrip. The port wing was extensively damaged and six feet of it torn off. The starboard wingtip was crushed. The tail wheel assembly and bulkhead were torn out, the tail plane and rudder damaged and the main skis broken off.


Wardair could not afford the loss of this hard working member of its fleet and the aircraft was a repairable proposition, albeit with difficulty due to its very remote location. The recovery of the Otter was entrusted to Denny McCartney, then in the process of setting up his own company to recover crashed aircraft from the bush, and it was in fact his first such task. It is well documented in his excellent book “Picking Up The Pieces” how the repairs were effected. The Otter was then flown, leaving the scene of the accident on 4th July 1958, to Shepherd Bay, south of the Boothia Peninsula to refuel, then continuing on to Cambridge Bay, Yellowknife, Fort St.John and Prince George to Vancouver, where permanent repairs were carried out by Western Airmotive Ltd. It was certainly back in action by 13th September 1958, as it was noted by the SAR authorities that day routing Fort St.John - Peace River - Hay River - Yellowknife, experiencing some communications difficulties en-route.


On 5th November 1962 the Otter was registered to Max Ward's new company, Wardair Canada Ltd. GBY continued flying for Wardair for several years, receiving periodic inspections at the Northwest Industries facility at Edmonton. In 1967 the company commenced the acquisition of DHC-6 Twin Otters, which would gradually replace the Otters. The first Twin Otter CF-VOG was acquired in April 1967 and the following month Otter GBY was sold to Greyhound Leasing & Financial of Canada Ltd, who arranged to lease the aircraft to La Ronge Aviation Services. A ferry permit was granted for a flight from Edmonton to La Ronge, Saskatchewan, the Otter's new base.


CF-GBY served its new operators for nearly seven years. One minor incident occurred in May 1969, when the Otter on floats blew a cylinder half way across Reindeer Lake, and had to set down on the ice, which was about to disintegrate. Beaver CF-GYR flew in to pick up the pilot and then flew in a mechanic to make repairs. Otter GBY continued flying for La Ronge Aviation until it came to grief in an accident on 25th February 1974. The Otter, on wheel-skis, was taking off that day from the frozen lake at La Ronge, en route to Lost Lake, Saskatechewan. It was carrying a load of a special type of mud, used to plug drill holes, and other mining supplies to a drilling camp at Lost Lake in the northern part of the province. Just after take-off the Otter stalled due to a heavy accumulation of ice on the wing, and crashed on the frozen ice, seriously injuring the two crew on board, one of whom subsequently died.


On 1st April 1974 the Otter was registered to Mike Hackman Aircraft Sales of Edmonton, although the registration was subsequently cancelled. The wreckage of the Otter was still to be seen lying at La Ronge for some years after the crash.

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