Robert Piché

Robert Piché, civil aviation pilot (b at Mont-Joli 5 Nov 1952). The career of Captain Robert Piché has certainly not been a long smooth flight; the pilot was trained "the hard way" and in often extreme conditions.

Robert Piché

Robert Piché, civil aviation pilot (b at Mont-Joli 5 Nov 1952). The career of Captain Robert Piché has certainly not been a long smooth flight; the pilot was trained "the hard way" and in often extreme conditions. After working as a bush pilot for various airlines in Québec, Piché fell into trafficking drugs from Jamaica. He was arrested in Georgia (US) in 1983 as soon as his plane landed, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The only Canadian among more than 800 prisoners, he lived in extremely difficult conditions during his incarceration. However, his time in prison served to intensify his determination and strength of character, and he was freed after two years with a pardon from the state of Georgia. When he returned to Québec he wished to pursue his dream of flying, and Air Transat - aware of his past but facing increasing business demand - hired him as an airline pilot.

The captain still lived with his alcohol addiction, though he drank only on his days off, thus respecting and never violating a basic rule of aviation. Therefore, it was with full confidence and control that on the evening of 23 Aug 2001 he took command of an Airbus A330 - Flight 236 bound from Toronto to Lisbon, Portugal. On board were 293 passengers and 13 crew members. While flying over the Atlantic Ocean, co-pilot Dirk de Jager reported a fuel shortage, probably due to an imbalance between the fuel tanks in the wings. Piché initially thought it was a computer problem and moved the remaining fuel from the left tank into the right one. However, the leak was indeed on the right side. After a series of increasingly intertwined events, including an earlier maintenance error by the carrier's team, the plane made an emergency landing with no engines and no fuel on the island of Terceira in the Azores, at the Lajes military air base. Through his cool-headedness and extraordinary strength of concentration, Captain Piché glided his wide-body airliner for more than 19 minutes, and succeeded in landing without igniting and with no major injuries to passengers. During the glide, the plane had a total volume of 150 metric tonnes, having lost more than 15 tonnes of fuel.

In addition to acknowledgement from his passengers, crew members, and employer, this feat earned Captain Robert Piché the title of a genuine hero - one who had accomplished the most important achievement of the last 50 years in civil aviation piloting, according to the Air Line Pilots Association.

Following this brilliant tour de force, Commander Piché received therapy for his addiction. He has been honoured on several occasions for his heroic act and still works for Air Transat as an airline pilot. Robert Piché also frequently speaks about alcoholism in a program to aid addicts, and gives lectures to people who suffer from fear of flying. Aux commandes du destin, a book about Piché's experiences by Pierre Cayouette, has been published, and the film ENTRE CIEL ET TERRE opened in July 2010 starring Michel CÔTÉ and his son Maxime LeFlaguais in the various roles of Captain Piché.