The Azores Glider – The Miracle of Flight 236

Written by on August 31, 2021

August 24th, 2001

The ill-fated journey of Air TransAt 236 was already sealed following routine engine maintenance; an mechanical oversight had resulted in an incorrect hydraulics part fitted to a replacement Trent 700 engine from Rolls Royce.  The mistake would ultimately cause an undetectable fuel leak and initiate a chain of events that will live forever in aviation history.

The Airbus 330-200 set forth from Toronto with 306 passengers and crew on board for an overnight flight to Lisbon, Portugal.  During the routine flight, the improperly fitted part chaffed against the fuel line in the N0. 2 engine causing a rupture and spilling fuel into the sea below.  Due to a lack in operational guidelines and indications from the avionics, the leak was initially interpreted by the crew to be a minor fuel imbalance and was managed by cross-feeding the fuel from the port to starboard tank.

By the time the crew realised that the imbalance was something much more serious, the Airbus 330 had lost most of its entire fuel supply just short of the Azores.  At 06:26 UTC, Flight 236 lost both engines due to fuel starvation.  The unthinkable had happened: Flight 236 was dead-stick.

With no engines, no APU and only emergency power to fly the aircraft, Captain Robert Piché would face the most daunting and terrifying challenge of his career: glide the fully-loaded A330 over a record-breaking 75 miles and attempt to land at Lajes Air Base in the Azores – or failing that – attempt an unthinkable water landing in the Atlantic.

The following documentary outlines the key events and following investigation into the fate of Air TransAt Flight 236.

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