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"Pilot tells of flying crippled jet as glider"

Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Pilot tells of flying crippled jet as glider
Says training, not heroism, led to safe landing
By Phil Couvrette
Associated Press

MIRABEL, Quebec - The pilot of a Canadian airliner that lost engine power
and glided for 18 minutes said yesterday 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 Captain Robert Piche, 49, said there was no time to think about
fear, only time to follow procedures and rely on his 30 years of 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 yesterday 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, or 1:25 a.m. EDT. An hour later, the
right engine lost power and, two minutes later, 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.

''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 declined to provide any more details on how he brought the
Toronto-to-Lisbon flight carrying 291 passengers and a crew of 13 to the
emergency landing at the Lajes airport on Terciera Island in the Azores, 900
miles off the coast of Portugal.

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

''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.''

Though passengers have described terrifying moments of chaos on the gliding
plane, the flight director Meleni Tesic praised the crew and passengers for
following procedures and instructions.

''There was absolutely no panic among all the passengers,'' Tesic said. But
passenger Joao Gaspar spoke of screaming passengers in a plane that quickly
lost altitude, then ''depressurized and jerked about.''


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