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Home > Emergencies > Plane running out of gas - Is one man's misfortune, another's gain?
Plane running out of gas - Is one man's misfortune, another's gain?
Flying - Emergencies
Wednesday, 09 May 2007 08:13

Hi Captain Lim,

1. Referring to your FAQ  (What happens when all the airplane engines failed in the air?), can you tell me where this airplane was flying FROM and where it made the EMERGENCY LANDING? Was it in Cape Verde Islands?

2. Also, did the captain and crew receive an award for their safe landing?

Thank you,


Hi Tom,

The Boeing 767 belongs to Air Canada and it occured over the Canadian heartland in a decommissioned RCAF Base in Gimli, on the Western shore of Lake Winnipeg - not in the Cape Verde Islands!

It happened on July 23, 1983 when Flight 143 took off from Ottawa to Edmonton. Halfway through the journey, the left engine failed and soon afterward, the right engine too quitted on them as the pilots commenced the descent (drift down) to the nearest airport. Yes, it ran out of fuel due to a series of bizarre errors by the pilots and ground crew. Consequently, the plane had only half the amount required for the journey!

Fortunately, the plane was able to make a successful glide landing on Gimli, a decomissioned airfield being used for auto racing. Worse, on that day, the Winnipeg Sports Car Club was having a "Family Day" where there were numerous people watching the race go-carts on the straightaway. The plane landed hard, blowing two tires as the go-cart racers and spectators scattered in every direction!

Well, the day was saved by a series of lucky breaks. The pilot, Captain Robert Pearson, was an experienced glider pilot and First Officer Maurice Quintal, had once been stationed at the RCAF Base at Gimli and was familiar with the landing strip.

After the landing, the pilot and co-pilot were praised for saving the lives of the 61 passengers on board.

Did the captain and crew receive an award for their safe landing?

No! After the Inquiry on October 4, 1983, Air Canada disciplined them for allowing the near-tragedy to happen. The pilot was demoted for six months, the co-pilot was suspended for two weeks and three ground workers were also suspended. A 1985 Transport Canada report blamed errors, insufficient training and safety procedures in the incident.

However, many residents of Gimli credit the incident for putting their town on the map - kind of "one man's misfortune is another man's gain". Anyway, it was not a total disaster for the crew at all. On July 1, 1986, Pearson, Quintal and the plane's flight attendants were given a place of honor in Gimli's Canada Day parade for making Gimli the site of Air Canada's most famous unscheduled stop!

Yes, an indirect award finally, but frown upon by the airline for the embarrassment of having one of its plane running out of gas!


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Weren't the pilots able to gage the amount of fuel in each tank prior to the incident but during flight?
Derek , 19 May, 2009
no as the fuel gauges were out of action for maintenance and because the 767-200 was air canada's first metric jet as it were the refuel-er used the liters( in his tanker) to pounds conversion rather than liters to kilograms and for one reason or another the pilots failed to spot the error and as the figure were the same but in different units no one noticed until the investigation.
conor , 15 Sep, 2012

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