Canadian pilot recounts losing both engines over the Atlantic Ocean
An Air Transat pilot who saved 306 people by guiding a plane to safety in the Azores after losing both engines mid-Atlantic says he hasn’t lost his passion for flying 15 years later.
Capt. Robert Piche’s Airbus A330 starting losing fuel mid-way between Toronto and Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 24, 2001. Both engines died and Piche calculated he had about 15 to 20 minutes before hitting the water.
Eighteen minutes later, a remote military airport at Lajes came into view.
But he was still at 15,000 feet and not sure how quickly he would need to lose altitude to make it.
“It’s a big bird and it weighed 155 tonnes that night, so I didn’t know (how) the plane is going to land,” he told CTV Windsor in Chatham, Ont., where he will speak at a fundraiser for Air Cadets on Friday.
“Sure enough, when we landed, it bounced 30 feet in the air and went forward 2,000 feet.”
Eight tires were blown, but the injuries were mostly minor. Piche and First Officer Dirk de Jager were hailed as heroes worldwide.
“You’ve never practiced that because running out of fuel over the ocean is not supposed to happen,” he added. “You don’t know how to do it.”
Piche said flying “dead stick” is “about 80 per cent instinct and 20 per cent procedures.”
His 18-minute glide broke the world record set in 1983 after Air Canada’s “Gimli Glider” ran out of fuel 17 minutes before a miraculous landing in Gimli, Man.
Piche said he had “some butterflies” in his stomach two months after the incident, when he was about to get back into the captain’s chair.
“I wasn’t afraid of flying,” he explained. “It was more likely that I would have lost my passion that put me there, because to get a job as Captain of Airbus A330 based in Montreal going worldwide -- a lot of people want to get that job.”
But Piche hasn’t lost his passion. He still flies the A330 out of Montreal.
Piche said the cause of the incident was a roughly three-inch-wide hole in a fuel line.
A Portuguese investigation found that improper maintenance caused the leak. Air Transat was fined $250,000 by Transport Canada.
Piche, who was an Air Cadet as a teenager in Mont-Joli, Que., is speaking Friday at Flight Fest in Chatham, Ont., to raise money for Air Cadets.
With a report from CTV Windsor