July 23rd was the 30th anniversary of the Gimli Glider, an Air Canada 767 (C-GAUN) that ran out of fuel and glided to a landing at Gimli Industrial Park Airport, a former RCAF base in Gimli, Manitoba.
Air Canada Flight 143 was on a flight from Montreal to Edmonton when, at 41,000 feet, the plane completely ran out of fuel. Investigators discovered that the fuel exhaustion was caused by a combination of miscommunication between air crews and maintenance personnel, fuel gauges that were disconnected or not functioning properly and fuel calculations that were made incorrectly. All of these factors were exacerbated by the switch in Canada from the Imperial to the Metric system which was taking place at the time.
Captain Robert (Bob) Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal found themselves at the controls of what could be considered the world's largest glider. As Captain Pearson, an experienced glider pilot, employed flying techniques he learned as a glider pilot to help control the aircraft, FO Quintal, with the aid of ground controllers, determined that it would be impossible to glide to their destination. Quintal proposed landing at RCAF Station Gimli. However, the station was no longer active, and had in fact been turned into a racetrack, the Gimli Motorsports Park. And there was a race being held at the track at the time of the landing.
After dropping the main gear by a gravity drop and with no locked nose wheel, with no hydraulic power and limited electricity being generated by an external turbine (Captain Roberts didn't even have a functioning vertical speed indicator), the pilots managed to land safely at Gimli. A small fire in the nose of the aircraft was extinguished by race safety personnel at the scene. All passengers and crew exited the plane safely, though some passengers were injured when the safety slides at the rear of the craft weren't long enough to get to the ground.
Captain Pearson and FO Quintal were initially found to be partially at fault for the incident due to their incorrect fuel calculations. However, they were eventually reinstated and awarded the first ever Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Diploma for Outstanding Airmanship in 1985.
The aircraft was temporarily repaired at Gimli and flew out two days later to be fully repaired at a maintenance base in Winnipeg. After almost 25 years of service, the airplane flew its last revenue flight on January 1, 2008, and was eventually retired to the aircraft bone yard in Tucson. In April 2013 the Gimli Glider was offered for sale at auction with an estimated price of CDN$2.75 to CDN$3 million. However, bidding only reached CDN$425,000 and the aircraft was not sold.
Photo by Andrew Oferta, Airliners.net