Few sights are as thrilling to a plane spotter as the Air Canada Boeing 767 with the registration mark C-GAUN, known to the reverent cognescenti as the Gimli Glider.
At this writing, C-GAUN is still flying, nearly 25 years after it made one of the most astonishing landings in the history of commercial aviation. I’ve been reading a lot of informed speculation lately that suggests C-GAUN will be retired soon. I hope, as many do, that it will be donated to a museum, because I’d really like to see it.
On July 23, 1983, when C-GAUN was still a very new aircraft, it ran out of fuel in the air, glided 60 miles and landed at a former airbase in Gimli, Manitoba. It was an incredible feat of aviation, the first successful dead-stick landing of a commercial airliner.
The nose gear collapsed in the hard landing, but the plane was repaired and has been flying ever since.
Wikipedia has an entry on the topic, which aviation geeks describe as thorough and accurate.
It’s hard to imagine what it could have been like for the cockpit crew when the lights and alarms started going off and then, somewhere around 28,000 feet, both engines shut down. That’s a terrifying silence when you’re five miles above the surface of the planet and your aircraft is suddenly an unpowered, 88-ton piece of metal.
It’s hard to imagine, too, what it could have been like for the 61 passengers to hear the engine stop and to be told to prepare for a crash landing. (Another thing only slightly easier to imagine – just 61 passengers on an entire 767.)
Fortunately for those 61 passengers and the five cabin crew members, the captain was Bob Pearson, an experienced glider pilot, and the first officer was Maurice Quintal, who was familiar with the former Gimli airbase. No one was seriously injured.
There’s an incredible photograph of C-GAUN, nose on the runway at Gimli, tail high in the air, dwarfing a cluster of race cars that had been using the decommissioned runway for an event minutes before the landing. About a zillion photos have been taken of the Glider since.
An investigation later concluded that the plane had taken off with only half the fuel it needed because of a mechanical glitch and a series of human errors, including a miscalculation in converting between pounds and kilograms.
There are indications that C-GAUN may not quite make it to the 25th anniversary of its incredible landing at Gimli. Air Canada has already retired some of its contemporaries. And people who seem to know about these things note that the plane hasn’t been painted or scheduled for the extensive overhaul it would need to keep flying much longer.