Gimli 767 nose gear (was: Emergency landing on water ?)

Date:         01 Jan 97 20:59:24 
From: (Mark Brader)
Organization: SoftQuad Inc., Toronto, Canada
References:   1 2 3 4
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Patrik Andersin writes:
> > An article in comp.risks 10.13 by Robert Dorsett says that ram
> > air turbine serviced only the basic flight controls, but did not
> > provide power for other surfaces, such as flaps.  Radios and backup
> > instrumentation was supplied initially by APU, later by battery power.
> > The nose gear collapsed and the nose acted as very efficient speed brake.

Marin Faure, in one of two articles saying roughly the same thing, writes:
> Actually, this is wrong. The nosegear did not collapse during the
> rollout. One end of Gimli field was used by a sports car club for road
> rallys. ... The track was bordered by concrete Jersey barriers or some
> other form of barrier fence. Because the 767 had no thrust reversers and
> minimal braking, the landing rollout took it all the way to the car track
> where it ran into one of these barriers just as it came to a stop. The
> nose never even hit the ground, but sat down on top of the barrier.
> ...
> I don't know where the "skidding down the runway on its nose with fire
> shooting out of things" idea started, maybe with the TV movie or the
> book, but the reality of the situation was the damage was very slight
> and the nosewheel did not collapse until it hit the race track barrier,
> by which time the plane was barely moving.

"The book" that Marin refers to is presumably "Freefall" (by William and
Marilyn Hoffer, St. Martin's Press,  1989, ISBN 0-312-02919-5).  The relevant
part of Robert Dorsett's posting to Risks was simply a review of the book,
including a synopsis of its technical content.  In other words, it wasn't
Robert Dorsett who said the gear collapsed, but the Hoffers.  However, they
said it in some detail, as I'll show below.

I'll include one paragraph of Robert's review, which he said was originally
posted in 1989 to rec.aviation, here:

|  The book is partially investigative reporting, partially schlock:
|  while it provides a detailed accounting of the events leading up to
|  the eventual landing, it also wastes an enormous amount of space on
|  what the passengers think, feel, etc--and in that respect rather
|  closely resembles the style Arthur Haily used in _Airport_.  In other
|  words, it's light reading, and tries to be something for everyone.
|  Fortunately, though, the authors kindly segregate the chapters into
|  what's happening in the cockpit, and what's happening elsewhere.  If
|  one sticks to the "Cockpit" (clearly labelled) chapters, it's tolerable
|  (but since the book itself is only 263 pages of double-spaced large
|  print and large margins, and less than half of it deals with the
|  technical issues, the $17.95 price tag isn't exactly worth it).

And this is exactly my opinion.  The excerpts below are selected for
technical content, but nevertheless show the lurid writing style.
(Yes, I do have a copy -- but I picked it up for 99 cents, remaindered.)

About the nose gear, then:

- Page 196:  On the panel in front of Quintal, two green lights
    indicated that both main landing gear were down and locked.
    But another glowed amber, warning that the nose gear was
    partially down but not locked.  Quintal immediately knew why...
    the nose gear had to push forward, against the wind...

- Page 201:  Pearson was too busy to notice that the forward gear
    had not locked.  He had another problem on his mind.

- Page 213:  Two tires blew in the right main landing gear.
    Careening forward at 170 knots, far faster than normal, now he
    had to stop the craft before it slammed into something.
       Pearson jammed the balls of his feet high up on the rudder
    pedals and pushed with his final reserve of strength to activate
    the brakes.  The nose dropped.  He anticipated the familiar thump
    of the forward gear touching down.  Instead he heard what sounded
    like the explosive bang! of a 12-gauge shotgun fired at close range.
    The right engine nacelle scraped the ground.  They were now sliding
    down the runway on their nose and an engine pod amid a cascade of

- Page 216:  Looking to their right they [two RCMP officers] saw
    that the jet had just touched down.  Its nose hit heavily against
    the pavement, creating a brilliant display of sparks and flowing

- Page 221:  Without a nosewheel to steer the aircraft, Pearson
    used differential braking. ...
       A new image appeared, improbable and confusing.  A low metal
    guardrail stood in the middle of the runway, set along its length.
    Pearson leaned heavier on the right brake.  The aircraft veered
    only slightly, skidding.  The left side of its nose glanced off
    the low metal fence, shearing off the round wooden posts at their

And the fire:

- Page 229:  [As soon as the plane stopped] Smoke from an unknown
    source now poured into the cockpit. ...  [It became] so thick
    they could barely see and almost could not breathe.

- Page 247:  The Gimli Fire Department arrived and located the smoke
    source.  Under the belly of the aircraft, insulation was burning
    softly, apparently ignited by the friction of the nose-down
    landing.  Firemen extinguished this, and a gentle breeze carried
    off the remaining wisps of smoke.

And the repairs:

- Page 251:  At Gimli, Aircraft 604 was repaired sufficiently to allow
    Air Canada's chief 767 flying instructor, Dave Walker, along with
    Captain Bob Clarke, to fly it to Winnipeg where it underwent
    further extensive repairs for more than a month.

Now, this is quite a bit of detail to give if there really was no
collapse before the plane came to a stop.  It reads as though it was
based on interviews with at least one of Pearson and Quintal, and at
least one of the RCMP officers, though there are no footnotes or
anything to specify the writers' sources.  Therefore, I'm inclined
to believe it -- unless I'm shown better evidence to the contrary.
(An official report on the incident would do; I haven't read that.)
Mark Brader             "Thus the metric system did not really catch on in the                States, unless you count the increasing popularity
SoftQuad Inc., Toronto     of the 9 mm bullet."         -- Dave Barry

My text in this article is in the public domain.