Incredible Story Of How Two Pilots Glided A 767 To Landing After Running Out Of Fuel Mid Flight
Air Canada Flight 143, famously known as the Gimli Glider after the crew successfully landed a Boeing 767 after running out of fuel mid-flight.
It was a scheduled domestic flight between Montreal and Edmonton in Canada operated on an Air Canada Boeing 767 by Captain Robert Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal.
Prior to the flight, the 767’s Fuel Quantity Indication System (FQIS) failed and the airline's only other spare FQIS also failed.
The 767 cannot be operated with inoperative fuel gauges however a miscommunication led the flight crew to operate the flight only by referring to a dripstick measurement.
The flight crew was required to enter the fuel quantity into the flight computer in kilograms, but instead mistakenly did the calculation with the density of jet fuel in pounds/liter which led to the airplane carrying only 45% of its required fuel load.
During the flight, while the aircraft was at 41,000ft, multiple warning systems sounded in the cockpit and soon after the left engine failed.
The crew attempted to restart the left engine and began to prepare for a single-engine landing but just minutes after, the right engine failed and the 767 lost all of its power and the crew was left with only few basic battery-powered emergency flight instruments.
As a dual engine failure was never expected to happen during flight, the crew was never trained to handle such a failure.
The crew planned to divert to Winnipeg however it then became apparent the 767 could not glide that far.
First Officer Maurice Quintal suggested to attempt the landing at RCAF Station Gimli which was a closed Air-force base where Quintal once worked before.
However unknown to Quintal and the ATC, a part of the Air Force base had been converted to a race track complex and a sports car race was underway at the time and the area around the decommissioned runway was full of cars and campers.
As the 767 got closer to the Air Force base, the crew managed to get the landing gear down using gravity drop mechanism however they were not able to extend the flap/slat due to the lack of hydraulic pressure.
With no flaps, the airplane was coming in way too high and fast. Captain Pearson then executed a forward slip maneuver performed by “crossing the controls” which allowed an increase in drag and lose excess altitude in order to bring the airplane to the correct approach profile.
Complicating the matters further, just before touching down the crew noticed two boys riding bicycles across the landing path, and as the engines were out, nobody heard the airplane approaching.
Captain Pearson later said that the boys were so close that he could see the looks of sheer terror on their faces as they realized that the airplane was coming straight towards them.
As soon as the airplane touched down, Pearson braked hard which resulted in skidding and the tires blowing out.
The unlocked nose wheel collapsed causing the aircraft's nose to slam into, bounce off, and then scrape along the ground. This additional friction helped to slow the airplane and kept it from crashing into the crowds surrounding the runway.
The airplane finally came to a stop, 17 minutes after initially running out of fuel. All 61 passengers escaped without any major injuries and nobody on the ground was hurt.
Captain Pearson and First Officer Quintal were awarded the first-ever Federation Aeronautique Internationale Diploma for Outstanding Airmanship.
The 767, C-GAUN flew its last revenue flight in 2008 Captained by the former head of the Air Canada Pilots Association Jean-Marc Bélanger along with Captain Robert Pearson and Captain Maurice Quintal on board to oversee the flight with three of the six flight attendants who were on Flight 143.