Falling from the Sky: Flight 174

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Falling from the Sky: Flight 174
Directed by Jorge Montesi
Produced by Joel Fields, Ronald Gilbert, Leonard Hill
Written by William and Marilyn Hoffer
Starring William Devane, Scott Hylands, Shelley Hack
Pacific Motion Pictures
Hill/Fields Entertainment
Distributed by ACI Worldwide Distribution
Release dates February 20, 1995
Running time 90 minutes
Country United States-Canada
Language English

Falling from the Sky: Flight 174 (also known as Freefall: Flight 174) is a 1995 television movie based on the story of Air Canada Flight 143 known as the "Gimli Glider".[1] It follows the crew, their families and the passengers of the flight, set in 1983, from the preparations for departure to the crash landing in an abandoned airfield in Manitoba, and everything in between. Unlike the novel Freefall (by William and Marilyn Hoffer), the airline and flight number were changed from Air Canada Flight 143 to Canada World Airways Flight 174.


Two airline pilots are experiencing a sudden loss of power in the two engines of their airliner due to a fuel pump failure, and end up crashing shortly afterwards. It is revealed that they were in a flight simulator. In complete disbelief that such a scenario could ever happen in real life, they protest to the examiner. He tells them that "It isn't a dream. It happened."([N 1])

Flashback to a few years earlier, on July 23, 1983 at Dorval Airport in Montreal. The ground crews of Canada World Airways struggle to convert gallons into liters and pounds into kilograms, as they prepare to refuel a brand-new Boeing 767 bound for Edmonton. This is the first aircraft in the fleet to use the metric system and they are about to make a terrible conversion mistake. Meanwhile, Beth Pearson (Mariette Hartley) drives her husband, Captain Robert Pearson (William Devane), to the airport, unusually anxious about hosting her in-laws later that day. Elsewhere in Montréal, First Officer Maurice Quintal (Scott Hylands) reluctantly accepts to cover for an injured colleague, leaving behind his sick wife.

The two airmen feel uneasy about their 767 having an inoperative fuel gauge, but are somewhat reassured to see the ground crews measuring the quantity of fuel in the tanks: 20,345 kg, or so they believe, enough to take them to Vancouver. Their Flight Management Computer will constantly indicate the quantity aboard. After a delay, the passengers board flight 174, including Rick Dion (Winston Rekert), the airline's chief mechanic, as well as his wife and three-year-old boy.

After takeoff, Dion visits Pearson in the flight deck. Their conversation is suddenly interrupted by a series of beeps indicating a failure with one of the fuel pumps. After activating the cross-feeding valve between the tanks, the alarm stops. Later, another fuel pump fails. Quintal revises the notepad used by the ground crew in Montréal and discovers they have loaded 20,345 pounds instead of 20,345 kg, leading to a potential fuel exhaustion.

Pearson decides to divert to Winnipeg, much to the dismay of his passengers. The 767 is still far from that major airport, when suddenly, an alarm sounds, indicating a complete fuel exhaustion. It is followed by the failure of the two engines, and the complete shutdown of the glass cockpit until the ram air turbine kicks in and provides limited power to the instruments. The aircraft has become a giant glider. All the passengers start to appreciate what they believe are their last living moments.

Luckily, Pearson is a former glider pilot. Quintal suddenly remembers the presence of an abandoned airfield in Gimli and the crew decide to land there instead of attempting to reach Winnipeg or landing in water. Unknown to them, the airfield's abandoned runway is occupied by race cars and young cyclists, which they dodge all the way until touchdown. The nose landing gear collapses, yet the aircraft stops within a few meters of the end of the runway. Everyone survived.



Although retaining the real names of three key individuals: Pilots Bob Pearson, Maurice Quintal, and Air Canada Maintenance Engineer and passenger on the flight, Rick Dion along with their families, the names of other people as well as the airline and the flight number were changed. The aircraft in the flying sequences is a Boeing 767 but interior scenes were with a Boeing 747 mock-up.


  1. ^ The examiner is played by Robert Pearson, the actual pilot of the "Gimli Glider."
  1. ^ "Jet's Fuel Ran Out After Metric Conversion Errors". New York Times, 30 July 1983.
  • Hoffer, William and Marilyn. Freefall: From 41,000 feet to Zero - A True Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989 ISBN 978-0-671-69689-4.
  • Stewart, Stanley. Emergency: Crisis on the Flightdeck. London: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 1992. ISBN 1-85310-348-9.

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