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An Air Canada Boeing 767, nicknamed the Gimli Glider, dwarfs race cars using the Gimli, Man. abandoned airstip as a race track in this July 24, 1983 file photo. ((The Canadian Press/Winnipeg Free Press/Wayne Glowacki))

The two pilots and several crew members who safely landed the legendary "Gimli Glider" are boarding the plane again Thursday as it makes what could be its final flight.

Pilot Robert Pearson and his first officer Maurice Quintal will board the Air Canada Boeing 767 in Montreal to oversee Thursday's flight, which will  carry it to its new home at California's Mojave Airport.

"Four groups … have shown some interest in acquiring the airplane, either for flying test beds for engines or for museum purposes, so it may not stay there too long," Pearson said.

"Hopefully somebody will find a use for it."

Three of the six flight attendants who were on Flight 143 will also be on board Thursday.

120-tonne, $40M glider

In July 1983, Flight 143 was on its way to Edmonton from Montreal when it ran out of fuel 12 kilometres above the Ontario-Manitoba border.

The 120-tonne plane, worth $40 million, became a glider, dropping over 600 metres per minute with no hope of reaching Winnipeg.

Pearson and Quintal managed to glide the plane, which had 61 passengers and eight crew members on board, 200 kilometres and then land it at an abandoned military airstrip in Gimli, Man., located north of the Manitoba capital on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.

The day of the accident, the Winnipeg Sports Car Club was holding a "Family Day" at the old Gimli base, so it was filled with families and campers and the runway was being used as a race track. Spectators and racers had to scatter as the giant plane touched down, then put out a fire in the nose with hand-held fire extinguishers.

None of the passengers was hurt during the landing, although some sustained minor injuries while using the plane's rear emergency slide.

After the landing, Pearson and Quintal were praised for their quick thinking. Pearson was an experienced glider pilot, while Quintal had once been stationed at the Royal Canadian Air Force base at Gimli and was familiar with the landing strips.

Later investigation revealed the plane was only carrying half the amount of fuel it required for the journey because of a metric conversion error that was made on the ground.

Months after the crash, Air Canada disciplined the two pilots for allowing the near-tragedy to happen. Pearson was demoted for six months, while Quintal was suspended for two weeks. Three ground workers were also suspended.

A 1985 Transport Canada report blamed the incident on errors and insufficient training and safety procedures.

Air Canada is organizing and paying for Thursday's reunion, but it won't comment on it.

Pearson said he doesn't think any airline likes publicity about accidents, even if they narrowly avert tragedy. 

With files from The Canadian Press