The Gimli Glider Revisited

Latest update - March 2010, Gimli Glider revisited, parts 1 & 2

"0138Z: AC143 YOW-YEG, forced landing at GM"  (Winnipeg ACC log, July 23, 1983)

      ATC logs and journals always seem to understate the dramatic. The story of the "Gimli Glider", as AC143 came to be known as, has been the subject of many articles, several books, and even a TV movie (Falling From The Sky, Flight 174). Air Canada recently retired the 767 to Arizona and NAVCANADA ran a feature article about the whole event. Perhaps it is time to revisit that night once again so I contacted Len Daczko in BC., but first a little background to set the stage.
     I was DSC in WG ACC at that time and was scheduled to work the midnight shift on the 24th so I had been napping in the evening and did not watch any TV. My Honda 550/4 motorcycle did not have a radio so I arrived at the ACC about 10:50pm not knowing the evening's adventure. When I entered the OpsRoom it was amazing. Usually the place was quiet as other than North Atlantic flights, traffic had largely passed through domestic airspace - but this night was different. Everyone was excited, smiling, laughing, euphoric, and no-one had gone home early. I found Helmut Goossen, the DSC I was relieving and asked him what was going on. I remember him giving me a strange look and saying: "You don't know?" Upon hearing my reply he filled me in. The story was almost unbelievable. The two controllers most directly involved were Ron Hewitt in the North and Len Daczko in Terminal, here are Len's words in response to an email I sent in April '08.

      "Thanks for sending the NavCan News. You asked me if it was accurate or not?

   Based on my recollection and data which I still have in my possession: Ron Hewett suggested Gimli as the nearest suitable airport to A/C which was not mentioned in previous aviation articles.

   1) When I was made aware of the situation, I switched to my 80nm display (which I was not supposed to use) to receive a point-out from Bill Jory & hand-off from Ron Hewitt.

   2) When the 767 came over to my freq. I went through the standard preamble (nature of the emergency, SOB and fuel remaining) He mentioned fuel starvation as the reason for the Mayday. I thought that he would switch to the appropriate fuel tank, re-light the engines and be on his way! Shortly after, I realized he had NO fuel remaining and we had a major problem on our collective hands. At 80nm, I was receiving only a primary radar return from the aircraft and he only approximated his altitude at 20,000 ft as he'd lost all his electronics & was using his cabin pressure gauge as an altimeter (which displays only 6,000 ft increments!) His other functioning instruments were a turn/bank indicator, a very small magnetic compass (which was subject to huge parallax error and was virtually unusable) and an airspeed indicator (he was maintaining an airspeed of 220 knots because it provided the best glide ratio.

   3) Moments after the hand off and just after his initial call to me, I received a transponder reply from his aircraft (which was the result of the APU momentarily running then stopping from fuel exhaustion) this allowed our AASR5 to give me about three sweeps of accurate radar data. During this time I noted he was descending through 18,500 ft at a rate of 200 ft per sweep.

   4) At this time,everyone still thought that they could do a straight in approach on Runway 18 in CYWG, however I did a quick calculation on paper and found that they would be 11nm short of the runway (this would have put him virtually in my back yard near St. Andrew's airport where I was living at the time) I mentioned this to supervisors (Rennie Smith and Steve Denike) who had all crash equipment etc in major standby mode for a landing/crash at WG.

   5) I was still giving him " no compass" approach vectors (Start turn now, Stop turn now, etc, because of his compass error and he was on top of an undercast strata form layer of cloud) for WG but also providing distance and bearings for Gimli. As seconds past, it became apparent to all, that he wasn't going to make WG, so he elected to try for Gimli. This now put the pressure on Steve and Rennie to quickly reorganize a hospital, airport standby and police presence for the Gimli Airport.

   6) I gave him a " no compass" 90 degree turn to the right toward Gimli which I refined several times because he was still above the layer of stratus at about 8,000 ft and did not have the ground in sight.

   7) As he descended through the "undercast", my vector took him through the northeast practise area which was active up to 6,500 ASL with several targets in the area. Fortunately, he saw all the traffic that I pointed out to him and did not have to alter course.

   8) I vectored him for a straight in approach to runway 31R (I mentioned 31R three times!) as I had flown in there many times with C-FSPW and was familiar with the airport layout. I also had Steve and Rennie double check the info in the AIP which they confirmed to be correct (NOTAMs etc).

   9) The pressures was on both pilots now, as they were running out of altitude. They finally made visual contact at about 8nm and 4,500 ft. (which was made known to me at the Board of Inquiry). However, I continued providing them with range and bearings until I lost radar contact with them at approximately 5nm from 31R at Gimli.

   10) After I wished Bob and Maurice "Good Luck", an AirCanada flight who was monitoring our communications and was just south of Gimli asked if I wanted him to deviate and take a look. I asked him to standby, received approval from the Centre for the deviation. The overflight said the aircraft was intact but reported smoke and people being evacuated!

   Bob and Maurice did a truly great job and the rest is now history."

[Ed Note: Len sent another email to clarify a couple of points.]

" I read the NavCan article again last night and failed to explain fully some key info to my first email.

   1) The reason that Bob preformed a side slip manoeuvre was different than suggested. When fuel starvation occurred over CYRL the aircraft was at 41,000 ft and the idea was to stay as high as possible for as long as possible with the ultimate goal of reaching CYWG. I'll now fast forward to his final approach into Gimli where he made about a 5 to 10 degree minor adjustment to my headings after making visual contact with the runway. After gliding 100nm from an altitude of FL410 and conserving as much altitude as possible, he ended up on short final with 200ft of altitude "in the bank", in other words he was 200 ft high and needed to get down!

   2) Why did Bob and Maurice land on 31L instead of 31R? You have to remember the pressure that these to guys were under and were also distracted by a gear problem. They were on short final and about to lower the gear but could not find the emergency gear lowering procedure in their new manual (it somehow ended up being in a different part of the manual). When the gear was lowered, they got an unsafe indication from the nose gear. They were also communicating with me and given instructions to use 31R but they fixated on 31L because it was freshly hardtopped for the racing circuit. The guard rail that ran the full length of the runway appeared as a freshly painted white centre line from the air and by comparison 31R was washed out in appearance and far less visible."

And a great postscript, almost dejŠ vu.

      "A strange thing happened to me exactly 2 days after the Gimli event. I was working day shift in a combined position (Departure and TRSA). The visibility was reduced due to rw- activity in the area. I received a call from the North Board that they had an Ilford-Riverton DC3 about 30 nm north of Gimli and who just cancelled IFR and wanted flight following into Gimli. I selected the 80 nm range and when the aircraft came over to my freq. I radar id'ed him and was told that he was wanting vectors to Gimli because he was unable to maintain altitude as one engine was shutdown. I gave him a vector for the airport and when he finally made visual contact, I asked if he saw a B767 on the runway. There was a brief pause and then he said that he did in fact have the 67 in sight. I very slowly told him to use the other runway! He landed safely without incident."   Len.

Len up the mast Schooner Cove Marina, Qualicom BC

Len sent along a couple of pictures to show he is still actively involved in his lifelong "hobby" - sailing.

(As usual, left click on the thumbnail for a larger image)

- Gimli Glider Revisited - part 1 -

March 2010:   Stan Enns is a retired WG ACC DSC and one his hobbies is geocaching (check out his hobby on (spinning globe ) but recently his hobby had a connection to the Gimli Glider. Here is the story in his words and make sure to check out the link at the bottom. It's good to see this event remembered and celebrated.

   An interesting geocaching/aviation tidbit for you: I have a Travel Bug out in the geocaching world called the Gimli Glider TB. Its goal is to get to the Mojave desert boneyard where the actual Gimli Glider is mothballed and then back to Gimli. Well, I had an e-mail from another cacher last week about it. He was a 4 year old boy on that flight, flying with his parents! His Dad was Rick Dion, an Air Canada maintenance engineer who went up to the cockpit during the incident. His Dad passed away last year, but Chris (the younger Dion) is living in the Vancouver area and asked me to edit the TB's goal so that it would go to B.C. on its travels so that he could have it for awhile. I've exchanged a few e-mails with him and wouldn't be surprised that some day he would like to come to MB and visit Gimli. He's never been back. If he makes it out this way I'm sure he'd be interested in a meeting some of the people involved in the ATC end of it. His Dad is interviewed in the 2008 episode of "Mayday" about the Gimli Glider. I still have that episode on my PVR. Right now the Travel Bug is in Florida. Seems to have a mind of its own.
   Here's a link to the Gimli Glider cache where I got the Travel Bug tags as FTF prize:

Gimli Glider geocache

- Gimli Glider Revisited - part 2 -

March 2010   I thought Stan's story was too good not to share with Len Daczko so I emailed him. I have attached Len's response and some photos. As I said above and it's worth restating, it's good to see this event remembered and celebrated.

   This past February (2010), I was in LA and decided to take a drive up to the Mojave Airport for the day to visit the old "GG". It was mid-week and mid-winter so things were pretty quiet at the airport. Their web site indicated that tours of the facility were available but I was the only one there at the time. I asked the attendant if he knew where Air Canada parked their retirees and if he knew of and/or could point out the "GG". He was familiar with the aircraft and it's history but unfortunately said that photos were not allowed. He then asked why I wanted a photo, so we talked for a while and I explained my involvement with the aircraft. He gave me a private tour and became preoccupied with other duties while I walked around the aircraft ;)
   With respect to Stan's comments regarding Rick Dion, I met him many years after the event. He and I unknowingly both settled in Tsawwessen and were introduced by a Hollywood writer who interviewed both of us for the "made for TV movie".
   I moved to Qualicum Beach 5 years ago and would see Rick Dion from time to time at the local airport which is located about 5 mins from my home. He was still involved in aviation and would fly over for "Airport Days" with his buddies in their exotic collector/restored vintage aircraft. I did hear of his passing about a year ago.......too bad, he was a great guy. Hope you enjoy the photos

      I know most of us who have worked in ATC, or are working today in ATC, understand that the public perception of what is "done on the ground" or behind the scenes if you prefer, is often incorrect or at least incomplete. Maybe we are guilty of not insisting that facts be reported accurately, after all the information is only as good as the reporting. But here we fortunate to hear the story again but this time in the words of one of the controllers.
      This webpage is a small way of recognizing that on a summer evening a long time ago, many people contributed to this amazing, almost incredible aviation event.

      [Ed Note: The most accurate portrayal of ATC I have ever seen is the movies is United 93. It is compelling watching and thankfully the producers took great efforts to tell the story as realistically as possible and it stays close to real-time. In my opinion, the most chilling scene was when the controller loses contact with UAL93 and the aircraft changes course - the controller stood up and kept calling. In the business of ATC you know something is wrong any time a radar controller stands up.]

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