I was just 12 when I took my first plane ride.
I can still remember all the nervousness and anxiety in the weeks leading up to my flight, but when my feet first touched back on solid ground, I realized my fears were nothing more than a result of watching one too many adventure movies. In fact, the odds of being killed in a plane crash are nearly 1 in 29.4 million.
But they do still occur. In 2015, there were three major plane crashes that took the lives of over 400 passengers and staff. When it comes to flying, most crashes are the result of either human error or a mechanical malfunction. Take this 1983 Air Canada flight, for example. After a malfunction forced pilots to make an emergency landing, these quick-thinking heroes were able to plummet over 40,000 feet without a single fatality.
When Air Canada Flight 143 pilots Bob Pearson and Maurice Quintal first boarded their plane, they were expecting for a smooth flight from Montreal to Edmonton. Sadly, that wouldn’t be the case.
Shortly after dinnertime on July 23, 1983, a light in the cockpit alerted Pearson and Quintal that the plane was experiencing fuel-pressure problems. While the pilots assumed it was nothing more than a failing fuel pump, they continued on without any worries knowing that gravity would help circulate fuel throughout the plane without a working pump.
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When a second emergency light went on, Pearson and Quintal decided it was best to listen to their instincts and call traffic control to discuss making an emergency landing in Winnipeg.
Not long after, the plane’s left engine died out, leaving the pair to prepare for a one-engine landing. Such a landing would be a difficult feat, but one they had practiced countless times in flight simulators.
Moments later, the plane’s second engine gave out, forcing the $40 million craft to fall at a rate of 2,500 feet per minute. With both engines dead, the plane’s only source of electricity was a small ram-air turbine located in the belly. The turbine did allow for the pilots to have some control over the flaps and ailerons. The flight attendants and passengers on board were aware of the mandatory emergency landing, but were left completely in the dark about the loss of power to the plane.
Pearson and Quintal were forced to communicate with air traffic control via radar after the plane’s transponder was rendered useless.
As Quintal began calculating the rate of descent, he discovered that they would not be able to make a safe landing in Winnipeg and would fall 15 miles short of their target. They decided to forego their emergency assistance in Winnipeg and shot for a landing on a much smaller runway in the town of Gimli.
Heading north, the pilots discovered that they were simply too high to make the landing and the runway itself had been partially converted into a drag-race track. Left with no other option, Pearson put the plane on a tilted slide, allowing it to shed altitude while maintaining its velocity.
When the plane finally hit ground, all that could be heard was a loud gunshot sound as the two tires of the landing gear burst open upon impact.
As the plane bounced down the runway, it appeared as though the plane was going to make a head-on collision with drag race fans cheering on their favorite racers. Fortunately for the pilots, the nose of the plane hit the guardrail of the racetrack, saving the lives of spectators.
When the plane came to a complete stop, the crew began taking passengers from the plane. Only 10 people were injured and all of those injuries were sustained on the emergency exit slides.
Following the incident, it was revealed that a recent switch from the imperial system to the metric system had doomed the plane from the start.
Upon takeoff, they had only half of the jet fuel it’d take to complete the journey. The miraculous landing made international news and the plane was later referred to as the “Gimli Glider.” It was repaired and put back into working rotation until 2008 when it was retired.
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Since that day in 1983, Air Canada has yet to make another emergency landing. Share this story to honor both Pearson and Quintal for keeping everyone safe.