Photo: Inspecting the damage after Flight 143's unorthodox landing, from Flight Safety Australia, pg. 22

Eddie Sez:

Here is an example of how the cause of a mishap can be obscured by press coverage, a good pilot's union, and a public's need for a hero now and then. The captain of this airplane did a magnificent job dead sticking a Boeing 767 to a landing on an abandoned air field. The first officer did a great job of computing glide ratios and keeping the captain informed. In fact, the performance of this crew in Cockpit Resource Management and Situational Awareness was superb from the moment they suspected they were out of fuel, all the way through the successful emergency landing, passenger evacuation, and aircraft fire fighting. Excellent.

The problem is that both pilots were instrumental to the fact the airplane took off without enough fuel.

The lessons here are obvious:

  • Be paranoid about fuel, especially when unfamiliar with the units being used.

  • Do not accept an MEL deferral at face value, research it yourself and come to fully understand the implications.

  • Do not accept a "higher authority" decision about what you can and cannot accept when assuming the responsibility for the safe conduct of a flight. (It appears the captain's claim of a higher authority directive may have been made up, the but the lesson is still a good one.)

An interesting side note. I like watching the U.K. television series May Day for recreations of these mishaps. The captain and first officer granted the series interviews and were treated very kindly, with only a one sentence note that they "were partly blamed for their roles in the incident." In fact, the captain was demoted for six months and the first officer was suspended for two weeks. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board cited Air Canada for failing to train the pilots to make the proper fuel calculations while praising the crew for overcoming the problems caused by "corporate and equipment deficiencies. Two years later both were awarded the first ever Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Diploma for Outstanding Airmanship.

Outstanding airmanship? I would give them an award for outstanding stick and rudder skills but then I would take away their licenses for very poor airmanship. The primary ingredient in airmanship, after all, is judgement.

What follows are quotes from the sources listed below, as well as my comments in blue.


Accident Report


Narrative

Final Report of the Board of Inquiry into Air Canada Boeing 767 C-GAUN Accident, Part II


Probable Cause

Final Report of the Board of Inquiry into Air Canada Boeing 767 C-GAUN Accident, Part III


See Also:


References

Final Report of the Board of Inquiry into Air Canada Boeing 767 C-GAUN Accident - Gimli, Manitoba, July 23, 1983, Government of Canada

May Day: Gimli Glider, Cineflix, Episode 37, Season 5, 14 May 2002 (Air Canada 143)

The 156-tonne Gimli Glider, Flight Safety Australia, July-August 2003