The durability of the DC-3 is a phenomena often discussed. Pilots who have flown the DC-3 have said, “You can crash a DC-3 but you can't wear it out.”
A Capital Airlines DC-3 had a mid-air collision over Milwaukee. It lost five feet of one wing and more than four feet of aileron, yet it made a safe landing without any injuries.
In 1957, a Frontier Airlines DC-3 was in the middle of a storm when it suddenly dropped 4,000 feet. Passengers felt a sudden jolt but the plane continued through the storm and landed safely. Once on the ground, the crew discovered the extent of the damage: A twelve-foot section of one wing was missing. When the weather cleared, a search team retraced the plane's flight path and found the piece of the wing on the side of the mountain it had grazed during the storm.
Another DC-3 got caught in a violent downdraft that tore seats loose (with passengers in them). It landed safely and when the FAA inspectors looked the plane over, they could not find a single loose rivet.
In 1950, a DC-3 pilot landed on the Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland attempting to rescue the crew of a Loftleider DC-4 that had crash-landed. The DC-3 was unable to take off and after all attempts to salvage it failed, they abandoned it to the Icelandic winter. In the following months, the snows completely buried the plane. Eight months later, Alfred Eliasonn, Kristinn Olson and a crew from Loftleider spent a month digging the DC-3 out of the snow. The men dragged it down the mountain, and to everyone's surprise, the engines started up as if they had been shut down overnight.
The men flew it back to Reykjavic where an inspection revealed some wrinkles and dents in the fuselage. There were also some defects in the tail wheel and skis that required replacement of these parts. They registered the plane in Iceland and christened it “Jokull,” for glacier. The men promptly sold the DC-3 (for a reported $80,000) to a Spanish airline, using the profits to buy a C-54. Today, that small enterprise is flying 747 jets, and they're not small anymore. They are Icelandic Airlines.
©Copyright Henry M. Holden