July 23, 1983: The Gimli Glider makes a great landing. Air Canada Flight 143 originated in Montreal and was heading towards Edmonton with a stopover in Ottawa. The Boeing 767-233 jet was flying at an altitude of about 41,000 feet when the plane ran out of fuel. It was about halfway through the flight with 61 passengers and 8 crew aboard. Captain Robert Pearson, 48, was a highly experienced pilot with over 15,000 flight hours. First Officer Maurice Quintal was also experienced with over 7,000 hours of total flying time. The plane was over Red Lake, Ontario when a warning system sounded. The fuel pressure on the plane’s left side was causing a problem. The pilots assumed it was a fuel pump and knew that fuel would feed the engines simply by gravity, so they turned the alarm off.
The fuel gauges were inoperative because of an electronic fault which was indicated on the instrument panel and also in the logs. The computer indicated there was still enough fuel for the flight. The issue was the programming no longer matched the new fueling system. The initial fuel had been registered in pounds rather than the new switch to metric and the measuring of fuel in kilograms. A pound is 2.2 kilograms. A few seconds later, a second fuel pressure alarm sounded, this time for the right engine. With this second alarm, the pilots diverted to Winnipeg. As they were changing course, the left engine failed and they were prepared for a one engine landing. They contacted air traffic control with their intentions as they attempted to restart the left engine.
Another warning system sounded. A loud “Bong” which was unheard of on any prior flight. The noise hadn’t even been part of simulator flights. It meant “all engines out”. This was never expected to happen and so it was not included in pilot training. The 767 jet was without engines and all the instruments on the panels in the cockpit also went blank. The panel was operated by electricity generated by the engines and without engines, there was no power for the panel. There were still a few basic battery-powered instruments available and they were enough to help land the aircraft. The engines also power the hydraulic system which added more problems with controlling the plane. They were left with a glider to set down, rather than a jet.
Pearson was an experienced glider pilot and had some tricks up his sleeve unavailable to most commercial pilots. He knew what was needed to give them the best chance of walking away from the doomed flight. They could not make it to Winnipeg, but there was a former RCAF Station near enough. The plane was set down at the closed Air Force base – Gimli. There were problems lowering the landing gear as the nose gear did not lock. They were able to bring in the plane safely but with the nose tipped downward. The only injuries were from people attempted to leave the plane via the rear chutes which were not long enough due to the tilt. All people aboard survived. The inquisition into the problem led to several reprimands. The plane was eventually repaired and flew again, which according to pilot folklore makes this a great landing.
Every one already knows the definition of a ‘good’ landing is one from which you can walk away. But very few know the definition of a ‘great landing.’ It’s one after which you can use the airplane another time.
There ain’t nothing so useless as altitude above you, runway behind you, or the gas that’s already gone.
When one engine fails on a twin-engine airplane you always have enough power left to get you to the scene of the crash.
Flying the airplane is more important than radioing your plight to a person on the ground incapable of understanding or doing anything about it. – all aviation sayings
Also on this day: “Wanna see something really scary?” – In 1983, Vic Morrow and two children were killed on the set ofTwilight Zone: The Movie.
World War I – In 1914, Serbia ignored an ultimatum from Austria- Hungary.
Like Riding on Air – In 1888, John Dunlap patented a new tire.
Telstar – In 1962, the first live transatlantic TV program was broadcast.
Reprisal – In 1943, a bizarre revenge killing took place.
* “Gimli glider” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gimli_glider.JPG#/media/File:Gimli_glider.JPG