Poonch town is in the western part of the state right on the Line of Control that separates Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. It was the scene of many battles in the 1947-48 war. At one stage when the road links were cut off, an airfield was built and the Indian Air Force used Dakotas and Harvards to fly supplies and reinforcements into Poonch. After the war, the airfield was used as an Advanced Landing ground for smaller aircraft like Austers, Harvards, and the DHC3 Otters.
On 19 August 1965, a DHC3 Otter of No.41 Squadron on a supply mission was damaged by Pakistani Shell fire and crash-landed at the Landing ground. The pilot of the aircraft is said to be Pilot Officer V Prakash (Though it’s unlikely that a young P/O would have been flying the aircraft to a forward area all by himself! – Edit.. see Update). At that time the loss was admitted in Indian accounts. However, they mentioned that the aircraft was hit by shell fire on the ground at Poonch and not in the air. The Pakistanis corroborated this with their claims but added a twist by attributing it to “Mujahids on the ground”, an oblique reference to the clandestine Pakistani Army operatives in Kashmir trying to raise a rebellion.
Over the years, the fuselage of the Otter was saved by the Army and patched up into “an airplane”. This airplane was a curious relic – the Army patched up the nose to resemble that of a Dakota. There were no undercarriage struts to speak of, and the whole aircraft was propped up on a platform.. much like a children’s playground relic in a park.
In late 2004, the remains were shipped to Ambala where 41 R&SU restored it back to displayable status. The story and articles connected with the Otter can be read at this link in the News Section The RSU already had experience re-constructing the Spitfire VIII from an year earlier and thus was chosen to patch up the Otter.
To rebuild the aircraft, the RSU had to come up with wings, undercarriage and engine cowlings. After reconstruction, the Otter was shipped back to Poonch and is now currently on display in the Poonch War Memorial Park just outside the airfield.
The aircraft carries the mysterious number “690B” on the fuselage, no doubt a remnant of the marking that the army may have retained over the years. Its location is at the Poonch Memorial Park, next to the airfield that used to be active years ago .. but is currently used only by Helicopters.
Update 30th November 2014:
Within three days of this article going online some of the questions we have had about this fuselage have been laid to rest. Namely, why was a young “Piloo” – a Pilot Officer, captaining this aircraft to the frontline during a time of strife in August 1965? What was this aircraft’s identity? Why was it labeled as “690 B”. When these questions were asked on Facebook, An answer was provided by veteran D C Bharadwaj.
This was an aircraft of 41 sqn based at Adampur and was on detachment at Jammu. Pilots were late Fg Offr SK Puri (Captain) and Plt Offr Vijay Prakash Poonia as co- pilot. Aircraft regn. no. was BM-1002. Date of accident was 19 Aug. 1965. Otters have done wonderful service in J&K sector as logistic air support service. Fg Offr Puri was later killed in an aircrash while crossing Pirpanjal pass in bad weather in the same sector.
It should be noted that the plaque at the site mentioned the construction date of the Otter as 25th August 1954, which implied that the restorers must have found a manufacturer’s plate or original markings referring to the same. Could the tail number 690B refer to some similar markings? Working back with BM1002’s original construction number – c/n 57, we found that the aircraft was manufactured in 1954 (check) and it served with the RCAF with the number RCAF3690 (Bells going off!). A quick search about the RCAF Otter with that number turned up this photograph, of the aircraft in RCAF colors. And it turned out that the RCAF in that era painted only the last three digits of the serial – 690.
Another interesting aspect – a closer analysis of the pre-restoration Indian Army picture of the Otter shows the word “RESCUE” painted on the fuselage – a remnant of the Canadian paint job seen in the original picture of RCAF 3690.
It is most likely that the Indian Army team discovered the 690 number and “RESCUE” label after the original olive green paint on the fuselage faded off. Not being fully versed with IAF numbering and paint schemes, they must have adapted it as the Indian scheme and decades later when the IAF took up the job of restoring it at Ambala, they went with whatever the Army had used! Thus giving us the first case of an Indian aircraft being displayed with an RCAF partial serial painted on!