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The Miracle Of Air Transat Flight 236: The Atlantic Glider

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On August 24, 2001, Air Transat Flight 236 from Toronto, Canada to Lisbon, Portugal lost all engine power when it was flying over the Atlantic Ocean.

The fuel leak brought on by improper maintenance caused the Airbus A330 to run out of fuel. All 306 passengers on board were saved after the plane’s skilled glider pilot, Captain Robert Piché, 48 years old, and First Officer Dirk de Jager, 28 years old, glided it to a safe emergency landing in the Azores.

The majority of the passengers on the flight were either Portuguese ex-pats returning to visit family in Portugal or Canadians traveling to Europe.

With a glide distance of about 121 kilometers, this was also the longest passenger airplane glide without engines running. The “Azores Glider” was given to this aircraft as a result of this unique aviation accident.

On Friday, August 24, 2001, at 00:52 (UTC), flight TS 236 departed from Toronto with 293 passengers and 13 crew members aboard, bound for Lisbon, Portugal.

The flight was flown by Captain Robert Piché, who had 16,800 hours of flight experience (with 796 of them on the Airbus A330), and First Officer Dirk DeJager, who had 4,800 flight hours (including 386 hours on the Airbus A330).

The Airbus A330, which had been in service for two years, had its first flight on March 17, 1999, was fitted with 362 seats, and Air Transat put it into service on April 28, 1999.

It was powered by two Trent 772B-60 engines from Rolls-Royce, each producing 71,100 lbs of thrust.

The airplane had 46.9 tonnes of fuel on board when it took off from Toronto, 4.5 tonnes more than was required by regulations.

Nearly four hours into the flight, at 04:38 UTC, the aircraft started to leak fuel due to a fracture that had formed in a fuel line going to the number 2 engine (the right engine).

More than four hours into the flight, at 05:03 UTC, the pilots noted high oil pressure and low oil temperature on engine number 2.

The pilots had no reason to suspect the fuel leak as the source, despite the fact that these readings were an indirect outcome of it. As a result, Captain Piché believed they were erroneous, and he expressed this suspicion to the Montreal-based Air Transat maintenance control center, which suggested they keep an eye on the situation.

At 05:36 UTC, the pilots received a warning of fuel imbalance.  They followed a standard procedure to correct the imbalance by moving fuel from the left wing tank to the right wing tank while they were Still unaware of the fuel leak.

The damaged fuel line, which was leaking at a rate of around one gallon per second, caused the transferred fuel to be lost. Due to this, the fuel-oil heat exchanger saw higher-than-normal fuel flow, which in turn caused the number 2 engine’s oil temperature and oil pressure to decrease and rise, respectively.

The pilots made the decision to divert to Lajes Air Base in the Azores at 05:45 UTC.

They declared a fuel emergency with Santa Maria Oceanic air traffic control three minutes later.

At 06:13 UTC, while still 280 km from Lajes and at 39,000 feet, engine number 2 flamed out due to fuel starvation. The appropriate single-engine altitude for the weight of the aircraft at that time was 33,000 feet, to which Captain Piché then started to descend to. The crew alerted Santa Maria Oceanic air traffic control about a mayday ten minutes later.

Engine number 1 likewise failed 13 minutes later, at 06:26 UTC, and the aircraft had to glide the final 120 kilometers from Lajes Air Base.

The plane’s main source of electrical power was lost when the engines failed.

The emergency ram air turbine is automatically activated, supplying the primary flight controls with enough hydraulic pressure and essential power for the aircraft’s essential sensors and flying instruments.

The hydraulic power for the flaps, backup brakes, and spoilers was lost on the aircraft.

The primary brakes could only be used a limited number of times utilizing pressure that was stored in the brake accumulator, but the slats would still be powered.

The passenger cabin’s oxygen masks dropped five minutes later, at 06:31 UTC.

Military air traffic controllers guided the aircraft to the airport with their radar system.

The plane descended at a speed of around 2,000 feet per minute. They estimated that they would have to make a forced ditch into the ocean in 15 to 20 minutes.

A few minutes after the air base was observed, captain Piché made a 360-degree turn followed by several “S” turns to get rid of extra altitude.

At 06:45 UTC, the plane touched down hard, around 1,030 ft past the threshold of runway 33, at a speed of around 200 knots, bounced once, and then touched down again, roughly 2,800 ft from the threshold.

After applying and maintaining maximum emergency braking, the aircraft completed a landing run that took up 2,300 meters of the runway’s 3,000 meters.

Because the antiskid and brake modulation systems were inoperative, the eight main wheels locked up, the tires abraded and fully deflated within 140 meters, and the wheels themselves were worn down to the axle during rollout.

During the evacuation of the airplane, two passengers suffered serious injuries, while 14 passengers and two crew members had minor injuries.

The main landing gear of the aircraft sustained structural damage as a result of the hard touchdown and rubbing of the locked wheels against the runway surface during the landing roll.

The lower fuselage also sustained structural damage as a result of the hard touchdown and experienced multiple punctures from the impact of flying debris from the main landing gear.

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