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Robert Piche, the man. Reflections upon his retirement

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  • This is a Google translation of this column in La Presse

Robert Piché, the man

Robert Piché en 2011. Demain, le commandant pilotera... (ARCHIVES PC)


Robert Piché in 2011. Tomorrow, the captain will fly an Air Transat Airbus for the last time.


What happened after Robert Piché succeeded in putting his Airbus A330 in the Azores is known and well-known: it was learned in the aftermath of the event that in another life, the hero of Air Transat Flight 236 had been jailed in the United States (Georgia), for transporting drugs in a small aircraft back in 1985.

I was at the Journal de Montréal at the time and I worked on this story with my gifted colleagues Jean-Michel Gauthier (now deceased) and Dominic Fugère. The Journal even sent us to Georgia, Jean-Michel and I, to investigate the arrest and imprisonment of young Robert Piché ...

But the public hated these revelations about the past of the hero of Air Transat Flight 236: he reproached us for wanting to transform the hero into zero ...

We were overwhelmed with emails and letters (we were still sending such things ...) of furious readers. Jean-Michel still received angry appeals three weeks after his return from Georgia ...

Sixteen years have passed since Flight 236, and on this autumn morning, which still looks like summer, Robert Piché sits in front of me for an interview, stressing his retirement forced by his 65 candles, the age of retirement imposed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to pilots of large aircraft

I told Robert Piché that we had a theory in the early days following his exploit: it was his past as a bush pilot who had allowed him, unexpectedly, to pose the A330 by hovering in the Azores ...

"Is that so, Robert?"

"No," he retorted. It was the prison that allowed me to land the plane. It was in prison that I developed my instinct for survival. When we lost all the fuel, my subconscious told me: "Survival? I have a file on it, wait, I'll take it out to you ... "As a pilot, you trained to be in an emergency, there I was in survival, and survival comes from prison. , I learned to pass over my fear ... "

Without his going to jail, perhaps Robert Piché's airline pilot training would not have been enough to land the plane in the Azores. That is what he believes.

Even today, with displeasure to the readers of the time who had hated revelations about the commander's past, I am convinced that this aspect of Robert Piché's life was of public interest ...

Because Commander Piché can not be understood without understanding Robert Piché, the detainee; Robert Piché, the man.


Tomorrow he will fly an Air Transat Airbus for the last time, a short flight for his Robert-Piché Foundation, which supports and finances organizations working with people who are addicted to alcohol, drugs and play.

I am probably the 20th to write a report about Robert Piché on his retirement. But about the pilot, about the myth, everything was said ...

So let me talk about man ...

One can quantify the number of people that Robert Piché helped save by putting his Airbus in the Azores in 2001: 306 people.

But we can never quantify the number of men and women that Robert Piché helped to save and save by publicly revealing that he is an alcoholic.

That kind of thing is not quantified.

Except that when Robert Piché speaks publicly and without taboos about the "rigorous honesty with oneself" that alcoholics must have - in interviews or conferences - when he says that he too could have lost everything because of alcohol , it's sure that his example helps someone, somewhere ...

"By consuming, I concealed a hypersensitivity," he said. The majority of alcoholics and drug addicts, we have a ball in the stomach ... "

This "ball" of which Robert Piché speaks, it develops from different traumas according to the people. "But we all have it. And we consume to make it disappear. And if I'm rigorously honest with myself, even though Flight 236 has given me credibility and notoriety, I'm not much different from the itinerant who lost everything because of his addiction. "

Then beyond the mythical pilot, Robert Piché, the man, has done useful work by speaking publicly about his addiction, a dependency that is similar to that of your brother, your mother, your son ...

And maybe yours.

I wanted to say how important it is, knowing how widespread dependency problems are.


One last trick, about Robert Piché, the man. I never saw his story as being a hero become zero, even though at the time I thought it was that of a zero became hero ...

I was wrong, though. I subscribed to a very simple narrative framework, which had the merit of illustrating a complex life story.

The universality of the life story of Robert Piché is that we all draw shadows, we are all the fruit of more or less gray areas, we all have bibittes that make us who we are , what we are.

These shadow parts can plunge us and even kill us, but they can also make us stronger. Best even. This was the case of Robert Piché.

And the story of Robert Piché reminds us that humans are complex and multidimensional beings, beings that are often summarized very badly at a glance, in a first impression ... in a headline.

It's easy to forget. I get involved in that.

Good retirement, Robert.

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I struggle with the "hero" label, but then I've read the full accident report. 

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There is no room for complacency when the fuel  quantity boggles the mind.  Not that many here would know what a "Howgozit" chart works, but I even did them on the A310. 

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2 hours ago, thor said:

I'd like to hear from the F/O on his side of the story.

FWIW, he's a 380 captain at Emirates.

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