Manitoba

Monday marks 35 years since metric mix-up led to Gimli Glider emergency

Decades later, people in the Manitoba town, and around the world, are still fascinated with the story of the Gimli Glider.

Flight travelling from Montreal to Edmonton made daring landing in Manitoba town after running out of fuel

Monday marks the 35th anniversary since the 'Gimli Glider' incident on Gimli, Man. on July 25, 1983. The plane made an emergency landing in the Manitoba town under no power. It was later revealed that the plane ran out of fuel due to a metric conversion error. (CBC/The National)

It was 35 years ago that a white-knuckle Air Canada flight, and miraculous landing, would thrust Gimli into international spotlight.

On July 23rd, 1983, Air Canada Flight 143 carrying 69 passengers was scheduled to fly from Montreal to Edmonton.

But the plane ran out of fuel while flying over northwestern Ontario.

Thankfully, it was being piloted by Captain Bob Pearson, who had been trained as a glider pilot.

He was able to safely land the Boeing 767 safely on Gimli's defunct airstrip.

The plane would become known as the Gimli Glider.

The Air Canada Boeing 767, a.k.a the Gimli Glider, on the abandoned RCAF airstrip. (Wayne Glowacki/Winnipeg Free Press via Canadian Press)

Decades later, people in the Manitoba town, and around the world, are still fascinated with the story, says Barb Gluck, president of the Gimli Glider exhibit.

"Because it's a happy story, and we really understand that when people are here, and they love the skill that it took for it to happen. They are always interested in the impact it had on aviation and the changes as a result of it," she said.

"And the fact that people walked away from it, thinking for 17 minutes that maybe they wouldn't walk away from it."

The Boeing 767 was the first metric plane to fly in Canada, which caused the miscalculation in fuel.

The Fuel Quantity Information System computer on Flight 143 was malfunctioning, so ground crew in Montreal loaded the fuel manually using calculations involving the specific gravity of jet fuel.

But the crew used imperial measurements, not metric, so the plane had only half the fuel it needed to reach Edmonton.

It began to run out of gas near Red Lake, Ont., a little over 200 kilometres from Gimli.

Retired Air Canada pilot Robert Pearson waves to the crowd in Gimli, Man., on July 23, 2008, the 25th anniversary of the incident. Pearson will be back in Gimli on Monday for a meet-and-greet. (Joe Bryksa/Winnipeg Free Press via Canadian Press)

So many things could have gone wrong. A car race was taking place on the airstrip when the plane made its landing. There was also a high school reunion happening in a hangar nearby "that relished the fact that the plane didn't come down on them," Gluck said. 

"Many other things could have happened that didn't," Gluck said.

"So it's just a great story overall."

The town is celebrating the anniversary with a number of events on Sunday and Monday, including the unveiling of the Gimli Glider tail fin and a meet-and-greet with Pearson himself.

With files from Radio Noon

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