15 April, 2004 Rothera
By Fin O’Sullivan.
The beginning of the winter season was the departure of RRS Shackleton in mid March. This left the 23 winterers to get on with life on base, and enjoy the spell of good weather when and how. The smaller community got on much better, and on the 1st April, the traditional pranks were carried out around the base. Much to our surprise, whilst in the middle of an elaborate hoax on Hamish Campbell, we got a phone call to inform us that the Shackleton would be returning to Rothera with an old BAS aircraft.
The Shackleton had been undertaking a clean up of abandoned BAS/FIDS bases, when it was asked to recover the body of a Single Otter aircraft that had been written off due to extensive metal fatigue affecting the fuselage, back in 1967. When we first were told about the return we thought that it was a wind-up due, but it gradually dawned upon us that our winter was to be interrupted early.
The plane was bought in 1959, and painted and flown as VP-FAK. It was a DHC -3 Otter, the 294th. It arrived at Deception Island on board the Kista Dan, where it was assembled and flown on to Adelaide Island base (now a Chilean summer station, and called Carvajal), at the southern end of Adelaide Island. It worked from Adelaide Island flying in support of field teams and dog parties.
In it’s first season it also helped to establish the base at Fossil Bluff, which it continued to help to re-supply over the next few years. In 1966/67 the first use of airborne radar echo for ice depth sensing was carried in the Antarctic from this plane. Flown from Adelaide Island and Stonington in the summer, the aircraft lived outside from September to March. It wintered at Deception Island, where it was maintained in the hangar there.
Damaged in an accident in 1964, it continued to fly, but was grounded in March 1967 by metal fatigue affecting the rear fuselage. Reports state that this was probably due to the cumulative damage, and the difficult conditions in that repairs often had to be made. Together with that, the rear part of the fuselage had been cannibalised off another Single Otter, VP-FAL, no. 377, which was written off after a crash on landing at Adelaide Island in 1964. Indeed it was grounded none too soon, as the in the report about the final landing at Deception Island, Flight Lieutenant JR Ayers states, ‘and it was the Grace of God the tail did not part company then.’
We were not expecting much, but when it did arrive it was in an even sorrier state than we imagined. The main fuselage, wings and engine coming ashore in separate pieces. The engine looked like it had been hit by a lighting bolt and fused together. However, I expect that we were a little naive, as it had been sitting in a hangar for the last 35 years. Our fanciful plans of doing her up and having weekend jollies up the Peninsular were scrapped! Indeed the winter field trips that have made it to Carvajal have stated that the remains of the aircraft there look in better condition.
Its current residence is in the aircraft hangar at Rothera, and nudging itself on the edge of the Volley ball court. A similar spot to where the body of BB was when I arrived in November. Hopefully BB will be back with us next season, but I think it will take a lot longer to get AK flying again.
Adelaide Island and FIDS/BAS Air Unit reports at Rothera
BAS Club Newsletter No 31.
Information and photographs provided by Joanne Rae, BAS Assistant Archivist