Here’s a chilly story.
Sometime in 1950, a DC-3 pilot, attempting to rescue the crew of a crashed DC-4, banged his aircraft down on the Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland.
They were unable to take-off again and the aircraft was left to the Icelandic winter and buried in the snow and ice. Eight months went by before a crew went back up the glacier to see if they could save her.
They took a month to dig her out of the ice and snow, then dragged her down the mountain, and started the engines. Of course they started – she was a DC-3!
Back in Reykjavik, she was overhauled and put back into service, bearing the name “Jokull”, Finnish for glacier. Some time later she was sold – for a fat profit – to an overseas airline. That’s the Dakota for you: unstoppable.
Here in South Africa, we have our very own icebound hero. Go out to Rand Airport today and you will find a long-nose beauty sitting across the apron from Hanger 5. That’s ZS-LVR, a former United States Air Force machine, now about to start work for her 12th owner since she joined the USAF on 7 June 1944. She is 56 years old, a spring chicken compared to some Dakotas.
There’s a twist in her story. A few months after joining the USAF, she was caught out one day in an Alaskan snowstorm and force landed somewhere in the vast and unfriendly tundra. The crew walked away and gradually everybody forgot about her.
Well, not everybody. After four years of standing in the bush – that’s 17 520 days of Alaskan weather, thawing-out in summer, buried under snow and ice in winter – some salvors made their way to this real-life Sleeping Beauty. They checked her over, poured some fresh oil into the engines and hooked up new batteries.
The legend goes that her engines started first time, and her rescuers flew her off a roughly-hewn airstrip to start a second life.
Much of that life was spent flying for an aerial survey company. One of her former pilots, Bob Schultz, flew her for two years in 1959 and 1960.
Bob wrote to me: “The story that I was told about the old girl was that there was some damage and disuse for some time followed by a re-build but I was never able to get a first hand detail of exactly what happened. I do know that although it had tanks for 1200 gallons, 950 gallons and a crew brought it up to the 26,900 pound legal gross weight.”
Another pilot who remembers her is Martin E. Caulfield who flew on the aircraft as an electronic technician on geophysical survey flights.
Writing on Rudi Leeuw’s fine aviation history website, Caulfield says “To say the least, this aircraft found the Alaskan oil deposit of 30 billion barrels of oil in five days flight time!”
Dakotas are thirsty aircraft. By finding the oilfield, you could say that she paid for her own drinks.
Allan Taylor, who worked as a Magnetometer operator/ Electronics technician for the Aero Services Corporation remembers being shot at in Oklahoma.
Also on Rudi’s site, he writes: “I must add that this aircraft did take fire from a Rancher in Oklahoma. He thought we were trying to scare his cows. We would fly at about 3000 feet during our normal survey work. I know he was a rancher because he met our flight crew at the airport after landing. We had one hole in the tail. We did not press charges, and we were able to convince him that we were not some kind of aerial hooligans. Good shots, those Oklahomans!”
Once permanently back in Africa – she had been to Niger and Mauritania before on survey work – ZS-LVR went everywhere on the sub-continent. Now she’s at Rand Airport – the photos were taken a couple of weeks ago – and about to start work at Skyclass Aviation.