A piece of Canadian history with all the elements of a Hollywood movie might actually see its day on the big screen.
The story of the “Gimli Glider,” a plane without fuel that dramatically landed on a former air base runway in Gimli, Man., in 1983, has gained the interest of Hollywood producers for a potential feature film.
“The latest we've heard is that they've hired two script writers,” Bob Pearson, captain of the famous Air Canada flight, told CTV Winnipeg. “We never know, but we are hopeful, and it’s of course something very interesting to be involved in.”
Los Angeles-based Inkubate Entertainment, the company behind the film, told CTV Winnipeg it’s excited to turn the story into a movie.
The Gimli Glider was the subject of a made-for-TV movie in the 1990s, but has never been featured on the big screen.
On July 23, 1983, Air Canada Flight 143 left Montreal for Edmonton at an altitude of about 12,500 metres. It reached about halfway before the airliner ran out of fuel and began to plummet to the ground.
“There was a loud bong and the cockpit (and) the flight deck simply went black,” said Pearson, now 82. “We (were) a great big glider.”
Pearson and his co-pilot, First Officer Maurice Quintal, who has since passed away, were able to avert what would have been one of the worst disasters in Canadian aviation history by landing the aircraft on the runway of an old military base in Gimli, Man.
“That's the only runway I saw,” Pearson said. “Air traffic control had no information … the tower wasn’t operating.”
Bob Munro, an RCMP sergeant at the time, was one of the first emergency responders on the scene.
“They said there was a 767 landing with no fuel and about 100 people on board and I turned and looked out the right-hand side of my window and the plane was ready to touch down,” he said.
At the time of the landing, the airfield was filled with people having a picnic and watching Go-Kart races on a runway that had turned into a racetrack after it was decommissioned. No one on the plane or on the ground was injured.
“The experience of these two pilots to bring that airplane in was nothing short of a miracle,” Munro said.
An investigation into the incident revealed human error, confusion over units of measurement and a failure on Air Canada’s part led to the plane being refueled with less fuel than it needed.
Barbara Gluck, president of the Gimli Glider Museum, says the story deserves to be a movie because the crew’s actions paved the way for another miraculous plane landing that later became a movie.
In what is now known as “The Miracle on the Hudson,” Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberg III successfully landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York City in January 2009 after the plane’s engines lost power following a collision with a flock of Canada geese.
The events surrounding the landing were eventually made into the 2016 movie “Sully,” starring Tom Hanks.
Gluck says the smooth landing would have never happened without the Gimli Glider.
"What (Sullenberg) learned after here in Gimli allowed him to perform what he did on the Hudson River,” she said.
The Gimli Glider landing has been immortalized in a museum, in books, documentaries and a made-for-TV movie, but it couldn’t get the Hollywood treatment without a little romance, and that’s exactly what the story got.
During a 30th reunion of the landing, Pearson met and fell in love with a passenger on the flight, Pearl Dion. They now live together near Ottawa.
“I thanked him many times for saving my life, saving our lives,” Dion said. “It just made for a really good match.”
This summer marks the 35th anniversary of the landing.
With a report from CTV News’ Manitoba bureau chief Jill Macyshon and CTV Winnipeg