In August 2001, Air Transat Flight 236 from Toronto to Lisbon suffered a complete power loss while flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Canadian pilot Captain Robert Piché was able to glide the plane safely to a landing at Lajes airport in the Azores, saving all 306 people aboard – mainly Canadian tourists. There’s even a Wikipedia page on the incident.
Last month, a group of Avon Maitland District secondary school students who had just spent over two weeks touring Italy unknowingly stepped onto that very same aircraft for their return flight from Rome to Toronto. The result was remarkably similar to that flight over a decade ago, with mechanical issues forcing Air Transat Flight 315 to conduct an emergency landing on July 17, this time in Dublin. On board the plane were 313 passengers and 12 crew members.
DCVI student Regan Mitchell, 17, was one of the students aboard the flight. “After the emergency landing I saw an article about it, and the same plane had had problems before,” she said. “I should not have read that article because it made me even more scared.”
Prior to the rather unexpected detour, Mitchell said it had essentially been a dream trip to Italy, which was conducted through the Avon Maitland school board, organized by Northwestern teacher Paul Finkelstein. “I just heard about it one day and I’ve always wanted to go to Italy, so I signed up,” she said. “We got an interdisciplinary studies credit for it.”
The group left for Italy June 28 and, ushered around the country by Weka Travel, saw Siena, Pisa, Florence, Venice, Frascati, Rome and Vatican City. “We went all over,” she said, expressing gratitude for the organization of their tour guides. “At the tower in Pisa, people were waiting in line, but we had tickets so got to go right up. In Rome, when we saw the Coliseum, we had our personal tour guide just for our little group.”
But Florence, the so-called birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, was her favourite. “Our tour guide was a student from the States who goes to school in Florence, and she’s studying Renaissance Art,” she said. “She knew everything.”
But good things have a tendency of coming to an end, and on July 17 Mitchell’s group got ready for their flight back to Canada. “I didn’t want to go home, personally, but everyone else I guess was kind of ready to go home,” she said. But that would be easier said than done.
According to Mitchell, “Four hours into the flight, there was a really strong smell of burning plastic.”
“It was right after they started serving us food, so I thought they might have just burnt a plastic bowl or something,” she said. After the seat belt sign came on, a fellow passenger asked a flight attendant what was the matter. “She responded by saying ‘we don’t know’,” Mitchell said. “That was not very good for me to hear, because that’s when I started sort of freaking out.”
The pilot told them to remain calm and then let the passengers know they would be making an emergency landing in Dublin. The airline has stated that the reason for the diversion was “traces of smoke in the cabin.” The plane made a hard-banking U-Turn and, upon their arrival at Dublin Airport, “fire trucks were chasing us right from when we landed,” she said. “The firemen came on and inspected the airplane. I was pretty impressed by their accents.”
After a several hour wait in a lounge Mitchell said was more reminiscent of “a concrete basement with no bathrooms,” their pilot stopped by to let them know the trouble had been an overheated fan. They would be running some more tests, he said, and wouldn’t be able to fly for a few more hours. “So, they sent us to a hotel, which was amazing,” she said.
Before long, the tour group had arrived at the posh City West Hotel in Dublin. “It would have cost $300 Canadian dollars for us to stay in it for a night, but we stayed for free obviously,” she said. For dinner, they ate essentially the same meal as the wedding party staying at the hotel that night. “So, we had salmon and chicken and potatoes,” she said. “Everyone was so excited to have potatoes in Ireland, and also we hadn’t had them since we left Canada. The dessert was the best cheesecake I had ever tasted.”
The following day, a 10:00 am departure from Dublin eventually became a 3:00 pm departure. “That was a really long day,” she said. “They told us it was because European skies are much busier than Canadian ones. Then we finally got home.”
On July 18, the group touched down in Toronto around 8:00 pm, safe and sound.
For now, it’s a great story to tell her co-workers at the Independent Grocer, and her classmates when she starts Grade 12 in a few weeks, but Mitchell said the trip might have also given her an idea about a future career option.
“I would love to go to Europe and, to make some extra money, be a tour guide,” she said. “I think that would be really cool.”