By Russ Niles, Editor-in-Chief
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Air Canada has retired one of the most famous Boeing 767s in pilot lore. Fleet no. 604 was flown to a storage area in the Mojave Desert, Thursday, 25 years after surviving, along with its crew of eight and 61 passengers, one of the most amazing dead-stick landings ever attempted. After the computerized fuel gauges on the then state-of-the-art aircraft failed because of a faulty solder joint, the ground crew decided to dip the tanks to ensure there was enough fuel for the 2,000-mile trip from Montreal to Edmonton. What they didn't know is that the dip gauges were calibrated in centimeters rather than inches and since a centimeter is less than half an inch, nowhere enough fuel was put on board. Sure enough, about half way through the trip, near the border of Ontario and Manitoba, both engines quit. Fortunately, Capt. Robert Pearson was a trained glider pilot and what happened next earned a footnote in airline history.
Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal calculated the glide potential of the airliner and determined they wouldn't make it to Winnipeg, the nearest airport of any size. Quintal, a former military pilot had served at an abandoned air force base in the small town of Gimli, Manitoba and the numbers, along with a long runway, looked good to both men. Pearson was high and hot on final but side slipped the 767 to a rough but safe landing that collapsed the nose gear but did little damage. The landing intruded on a day at the races for some go cart enthusiasts who were using the abandoned concrete but no one was hurt. The plane was flown away after two days of repairs and remained in uneventful service until Pearson, Quintal and several of the flight attendants on board that day accompanied it on its final flight to California.