Do Not Run Out of Gas!

How would you respond to such a challenge? Could you remain calm under pressure? Flight 143’s captain was an experienced glider pilot, and he immediately began applying techniques rarely used on a commercial airliner. Adjusting the Boeing’s attitude to squeeze the greatest forward distance possible during the craft’s rapid decent, he and his first officer began examining their options.

After learning from Air Traffic Control that the plane could not reach Winnipeg, where emergency response crews were available, only one landing site remained—Gimli, a former Royal Canadian Air Force Station. With little time or altitude to spare, the pilots turned the lumbering 767 onto a course for Gimli. They attempted to drop the plane’s landing gear, which without hydraulics would have to rely on gravity to fall into place. The rear wheels dropped and locked into place, but the front landing gear dropped only partially, failing to lock into place. Gimli was in sight, and the plane was coming down—with or without its forward landing gear!

However, while there was too little altitude to reach Winnipeg, there was too much altitude to land at Gimli. If the plane dove for the airstrip, it would gain too much speed and overshoot the runway. Yet, if the pilots tried to circle to lose additional altitude, the plane would not be able to make it back. In glider-pilot mode, the captain executed a move known as a “forward slip”—a maneuver rarely performed in a jumbo jet. By pointing the nose away from the down wing, the plane’s fuselage would create additional drag, causing a rapid loss of altitude without increasing forward speed.

The maneuver appeared successful, but there was another problem. The runway ahead of them was no longer an airstrip—it had been converted to a drag strip! Furthermore, crowds were lining the side of the strip after a busy day of racing. Few were alert to the impending collision of metal and asphalt, as the plane dropped largely undetected without the noise of its engines. Yet the plane would have to land on the drag strip. All other options were gone.

After the plane’s rear wheels hit the ground, the nose wheel touched down and immediately collapsed into its housing. The plane veered into a guardrail beside the drag strip. Miraculously, the combination of the aircraft’s forward gear collapsing and the plane sliding against the guardrail provided enough resistance to stop the plane short of the crowds. No one was harmed!

If the pilots had given up, all would have been lost. Yet, through the entire ordeal, the pilots never faltered, never quit. When circumstances seemed hopeless at best, they remained undeterred. They endured through the struggles, never ran out of gas—and all on board were saved!

We can learn a lot from this example. Jesus Christ made it clear that, at the end of this present age, Christians will face difficult challenges. Yes, troubling times are ahead, yet He left a message of hope: “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). As faithful Christians, we must be sure not to run out of gas before reaching our destination (Revelation 3:21; 20:6). With Christ’s help, we can endure life’s struggles and land safely in God’s Kingdom (Philippians 4:13).

The “Gimli Glider” became a story of courage and endurance in the face of a potential tragedy for Air Canada, its passengers and their loved ones. Yet, today, the same airline that saw such a triumph is contending against very different challenges that may yet bring it to the ground. Read “Descending into Greed?” in the Tomorrow’s World magazine to learn more.