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11th of March 2019

A Royal Canadian Air Force de Havilland Canada CC-138 Twin Otter (DHC-6) was operating in the polar regions of the Canadian Northwest Territories. Onboard a crew of 4 and 3 passengers. The area in which the aircraft was flying was ~210 nm (340 km) north of the Arctic Circle, 87.5 nm (140 km) north of the town of Inuvik.

The aircraft with the collapsed nose landing gear at the accident site (© RCAF)

As part of Operation Nanook-Nunalivut, the aircraft had departed the town of Tuktoyatuk (Northwest Territories, Canada) with 3 scientists on board and had made an uneventful stop on the see-ice, near to Tuktoyatuk. The next stop was Pelly Island, due west from the first stop. After a short flight two low passes were flown (reconnaissance patterns) above the ice to access wind and surface conditions. An into the wind approach was flown for a landing on the sea ice, approximately 1 nm (1.8 km) from the island.

The touchdown was on a smooth piece of sea ice, the aircraft then hit a snowdrift perpendicular to the aircraft heading. this caused the aircraft to bounce and touched down again, but then hit a bigger snowdrift that cause the nose landing gear to collapse causing the aircraft to come to a stop soon after.

The aircraft is being prepared for recovery. © Justin Spinello

The aircraft sustained substantial damage to the nose gear and nose section of the aircraft. None of the occupants was injured in the landing mishap, and only a short while later were evacuated to Inuvik by a civilian helicopter. The incident was investigated by the relevant authorities and they concluded that;

  • the crew did not see the snowdrifts during the reconnaissance patterns

  • the crew did not see the snowdrifts on the final approach before landing

  • High cirrus clouds obscured the sun, this contributed to the fact that assessing the sea-ice condition was difficult.

The arrival of the "rescue helicopter on the 24th of March.© Justin Spinello

The damage to the aircraft was repairable but repair on-site was deemed possible, however, weather and ice conditions would no longer be ideal. With temperatures forecasted to climb to -5º or even 0º C take-off performance would become an issue. Wit temperatures above -10º C takeoff distances would increase exponentially. So plans were made to recover the aircraft. To do this a Sikorsky S-61R helicopter would lift the aircraft off the ice as an underslung load. To achieve this the aircraft weight had to be reduced. to prepare the aircraft the RCAF’s salvage team from 8 Wing Trenton, Ont and technicians from 440 Transport Squadron removed all unnecessary weight from the aircraft. While detachment of the Canadian Rangers provided protection from predators!

Video of the recovery operation, © RCAF

On the 24th of March, 13 days after the landing mishap, the Sikorsky S-61R lifted the 7800 pounds (3500 kg) of the sea ice and started the slow flight back to Inuvik. During the flight, a refuelling stop had to be made. For this reason, a fuel station was set up, especially for this recovery mission,n around the halfway point of the flight. To prevent the aircraft from spinning a small parachute was attached to the tail of the Twin Otter.

Once the aircraft was back at Inuvik, it was readied for onward shipment to a repair facility. to was fully repaired and returned to active duty.

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