Gimli commemorates historic airline touchdown with new exhibit


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GIMLI — Thirty-four years to the day after a new Air Canada 767 jet suddenly ran out of fuel and was forced to land like a glider in Gimli, a museum commemorating the event is taking off.

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This article was published 21/07/2017 (1899 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GIMLI — Thirty-four years to the day after a new Air Canada 767 jet suddenly ran out of fuel and was forced to land like a glider in Gimli, a museum commemorating the event is taking off.

The Gimli Glider Exhibit, located in one of the 1st Avenue storefronts in the Lakeview Resort, will have its grand opening on Sunday, and there will be a special guest in attendance: retired Capt. Bob Pearson, the pilot who landed the plane safely with 69 people on board.

Pearson, an Ontario resident, said he is looking forward to seeing the museum for the first time.

“It’s pretty nice,” he said.

“Not too many airline pilots have a museum dedicated to their feat. I was one of 1,900 pilots with Air Canada in 1983 and all of a sudden something happens.

“I’m glad it turned out the way it did.”

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Steve Bannister (top), vice-president of the Gimli Glider Exhibit (left), in the mock-up of the cockpit with flight simulator component of the airline, as shown above.

Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal were flying the jet from Montreal to Edmonton on July 23, 1983, when suddenly cockpit warning system alarms began going off, indicating a problem with the fuel system. As the pilots began diverting to land in Winnipeg, the left engine went out, followed by the right engine.

A later investigation found that the ground crew had calculated the fuel in pounds instead of kilograms when the plane was fuelled, and the pilots approved the mistaken amount.

It meant the plane only had half the fuel it needed to get to Edmonton when it took off.

Luckily, Pearson had flown gliders and he began flying the commercial jet like a glider. Quintal, who had served with the Air Force, had once served at the former air base in Gimli, and he suggested landing there after calculating they would not be able to glide as far as Winnipeg.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Air Canada Boeing 767 landed on and old unused runway in Gimli on July 23, 1983.
The plane successfully landed on the runway, but the pilots didn’t know until after they touched down that the runway they landed on was now a race track complex and the aircraft had stopped short of a sports car race underway. They also watched as three boys on bicycles on the runway were able to get out of the way of the powerless plane.

Pearson said he and Quintal, who died in 2015, never would have thought the landing would still generate so much interest decades later.

“It has been quite a ride,” he said.

Greg Gowryluck, and his wife Sharon, were recently touring the exhibit with their daughter and two grandsons.

“It’s a really great museum,” Gowryluck said.

“It really piques our interest. It happened in our generation and it’s something that happened in our province.”

“It is perfect for all three generations of our family,” Sharon said.

Barb Gluck, the museum’s president, said the facility had a soft opening last month, but Sunday it will officially open.

Gluck said she and Gimli residents Gwen Harp and Dave McNabb decided it was time to open an exhibit to one of the most famous Canadian aviation incidents.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The exterior of the Gimli Glider Exhibit in Gimli, Manitoba.
“People constantly asked why isn’t there a museum — well now there is,” she said.

Gluck said the museum idea really took off when they realized in 2015 that the plane’s parts were being sold for salvage.

The museum has a piece of the plane’s fuselage as well as a few other parts. A fundraising effort is ongoing to purchase the tail of the plane. There is a small theatre showing films about the Gimli Glider with aircraft passenger seats used for the seating.

Steve Bannister, vice-president of the museum, is also in charge of helping people relive the plane’s landing on a flight simulator at the back of the exhibit.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Barb Gluck, president of the The Gimli Glider Exhibit, with a part of the fuselage on display from the Boeing 767 that landed in Gimli on July 23, 1983.

“It is pretty good,” Bannister said.

“It gives people a pretty good look at the airport eight miles back. This is a unique aviation story — and it has a happy ending.”

The museum is open daily during the summer from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., while winter hours will be noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The left underwing fueling station panel from the Air Canada Boeing 767 that landed in Gimli is part of the exhibit.
Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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