According to an investigative committee later formed, the plane’s fuel reserves had enough left for only one more minute
Boeing 377 Stratocruisers. Even barring equipment, each one weighs 38,500 kg
“I didn’t want to turn my head, so they wouldn’t see how worried I was”, Hugo Marom, Captain of the Flight There is no better holiday than Hanukkah to talk about miracles, and the history of the IAF is woven by many such stories. One of them includes a particularly heavy Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, crossing the ocean as it fuel gauge neared zero
These days, Jews around the world are lighting Menorahs and commemorating the little jug of oil that lasted for eight days, the blazing menorah and the resurrected temple. Several thousand years later, the IAF has already accumulated several miracles of its own, including a dangerous calculation error and a jug of fuel that lasted–miraculously?–until the very last moment.
In the year 1962, aerial industries purchased five Boeing 377 “Stratocruiser” planes, whose size warranted a Hebrew name that translates into “Giant”. The man chosen to fly the planes from New York to Paris, and from there to Israel, was the main experimental pilot of the aerial industry–Major Hugo Marom. He wasn’t aware of the ominous chain of events that occurred before takeoff: the weather slowly deteriorated, a calculation error lead to an excess weight of five tons on the Stratocruiser, and as if the aforementioned were not enough, 40 passengers from the aerial industry had boarded the flight as well.
Fuel Running Out, Headwinds Blowing and Icicles on the Wing
After reaching the midway of the trip, the plane reached a point in which there won’t be enough fuel to return to New York in case of emergency. “Everything was going alright until we passed that point”, remembers Hugo with half a smile. Within a short while, the wind on their backs began changing directions and flow against the direction of the flight, an issue that significantly slowed the plane’s progress. The crew knew that they would not be able to return, and that all that is left to do is hope that nothing else slows them down. Unfortunately, no one knew yet about the five extra tons hidden in the plane’s underbelly.
Meanwhile, the situation continued to worsen. Before 10 hours had passed, icicles began forming on the belly and wings of the plane. “To get rid of the weight of the ice, that was slowing us down greatly, I decided to lower our altitude to get to higher temperatures”, explains Hugo. The ice indeed melted, but at this point the needle of the fuel gauge began pointing toward zero, and Marom realized that they would not be getting to Paris. “We decided to change the plan and fly directly to the nearby airport in Bordeaux”.
“Suddenly I Realized: We Wouldn’t Be Getting There, Either”
Hugo continued to fly in a heavy plane and an even heavier heart. As he worked on calculations, he suddenly realized: they would not be getting to Bordeaux either. “We declared a state of emergency. We prepared all the passengers with rescue suits, and were ready to abandon the plane with rescue boats”. From that moment on, Marom gave instructions to the crew with his gaze facing forward only. “I didn’t want to turn my head, so they wouldn’t see how worried I was”. All throughout the way, he knew that amongst the terrified passengers was also his wife. The fuel gauge showed that there wasn’t much time left, and everyone prepared for a dangerous landing amongst monstrous, ten-meter waves. But then, a plot twist occurred. “Mere seconds before touching the turbulent waters, I saw out of the corner of my eye a blurry white line. I realized that I am seeing land”.
Hugo climbed carefully with the plane, hoping in his heart that by the time the fuel runs out they will be above ground. “I continued to climb until I saw the sand, and behind it a landing strip”. Without thinking twice, Hugo passed the shoreline, with the black, solid asphalt runway
of Bordeaux clearing before his eyes. He descended the wheels and was able to land the plane successfully. At this point, so realized an investigative committee that was later formed, the plane’s fuel reserves had enough left for only one more minute. Miracle or not, this is the story of a pilot that did not give up and of a plane that landed–literally–with its last drops of fuel.