When A Plane Ran Out Of Fuel At 41,000 Feet, Its Pilots Were Faced With A Stomach-churning Decision

Image: Eric Bégin

On July 23, 1983, the pilots of Air Canada Flight 143 don’t dwell too much on the warning light that starts blinking during their journey. Having calculated the amount of fuel they have left, the airmen simply conclude that they’ll make it to their destination with ease. But then another bulb lights up – and this one tells them that their numbers are all wrong. In fact, they’re dangerously low on fuel – and they’re hundreds of miles from their destination.

Image: Lya_Cattel/Getty Images

At the time, Air Canada had just added the Boeing 767 to its fleet – with the vessel bringing with it a new form of measurement. This was the metric system. Yet on the ground the plane’s electronic gauge failed to work, so airline employees manually calculated how much fuel they needed. They did so incorrectly, however, slashing in half the amount of gas it’d take to get them from Ottawa to Edmonton.

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