Archive for Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Pilot praised for landing disabled plane

August 29, 2001


— The pilot of a Canadian airliner that lost engine power and glided for 18 minutes said Tuesday he was no hero, but only doing his job in bringing the plane to safety with 304 people aboard.

The crippled Airbus A330 jetliner managed a hard landing on the Azores Islands around dawn Friday. Flames erupted briefly as the plane's tires burst and the craft spilled fuel onto the runway. Eleven people were hospitalized for minor injuries.

Air Transat Capt. Robert Piche, 49, said there was no time to think about fear, only time to follow procedures and rely on his 30 years' experience, while gliding the plane down from 32,000 feet with both engines shut down.

"Of course we had doubts. But we did what we had to do," Piche said at a news conference at a Montreal hotel.

A preliminary report issued Tuesday by Portuguese investigators said a malfunctioning fuel injection pump caused low fuel pressure in both engines.

According to a report by investigators, Piche's crew noticed what they called a fuel leak at 4:25 a.m. Friday (12:25 p.m. CDT Thursday). An hour later, the right engine lost power and, two minutes after that, the left engine went dead.

Piche said that after the loss of the engines, he was left with nothing but his control stick with minimum power from an emergency propeller to control the aircraft. He glided the craft for 18 minutes over the Atlantic Ocean before reaching the runway. It took 90 seconds to evacuate the plane.

"That's what we get trained for, that's what we get paid for, to be successful in a situation like that," Piche said. "I'm not a hero."

He provided few details on how he brought the Toronto-to-Lisbon flight carrying 291 passengers and a crew of 13 to the safe emergency landing on Terciera Island in the Azores, 900 miles west of Portugal.

But he stressed that the incident showed that procedures set up for problems on international flights, such as alternate landing sites, works.

"I've been flying for 30 years. I understand full well that on an international flight, nothing like this is supposed to happen," he said. "Now I understand that the system we have throughout the world, the system operates. It works."

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