Jet Airliner Ditching Events

While many jet airliners have either crashed into water or ran off runways into water, very few jet airliners have been involved in an intentional ditching. In this analysis, ditching is defined as an event where the flight crew intentionally lands an aircraft in some body of water such as a lake, a river, or the ocean. There are a number of other restrictions to the ditching definition when used by AirSafe.com:

  • Accidental or unintentional landings or excursions onto water are excluded, such as runway overruns or controlled flight into water.
  • Uncontrolled impacts with water are excluded.
  • The body of water must be deep enough that if the aircraft sinks, some or all of the occupants would have to evacuate the aircraft cabin to avoid drowning.

Since the introduction of passenger jet airliner services in 1958, only four occurrences have clearly met the criteria for a ditching event involving a passenger jet:

  1. October 1963; Aeroflot Tu124; Leningrad, USSR: According to a report in Flight International Magazine the aircraft was on a flight from Estonia to Moscow when a landing gear problem led to a diversion to Leningrad. While holding prior to landing and about 13 miles (20.8 km) from Leningrad airport, the aircraft ran out of fuel. The crew managed to land the aircraft on the nearby Neva River, where it remained floating on the surface. The aircraft was towed to shore and all 52 occupants survived.

  2. 2 May 1970; ALM DC9-33CF; near St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands: The aircraft had departed JFK airport in New York for St. Maarten in the Netherlands Antilles. After three missed approaches, the crew diverted to St. Croix. While en route, the aircraft ran out of fuel and the crew ditched the aircraft. While the flight crew made specific preparations for ditching, the imminent ditching was not communicated to the cabin crew. As a result, several occupants were not belted in at the time of the ditching. The aircraft remained afloat for five to six minutes before sinking in waters about one mile (1600 meters) deep. One of the six crew members and 22 of the 57 passengers were killed. The accident was investigated by the NTSB and the details are available in NTSB report NTSB-AAR-71-8 dated 31 March 1971.

  3. 23 November 1996; Ethiopian Airlines 767-200ER; near Moroni, Comoros Islands: The aircraft was on a flight from Ethiopia to Kenya when it was hijacked by at least two people. While attempting a landing near Moroni in the Comoros Islands the aircraft ran out of fuel and ditched near a beach. Ten of the 12 crew members and 117 of the 160 passengers were killed. The three hijackers apparently died.

    An analysis of a video of the ditching reveals the following information.

    • Speed: The aircraft was traveling in excess of 130 knots (150 mph, 244 km/h) as the aircraft first touched water.

    • Crash Sequence: The aircraft initially dragged the left wing tip in the water, followed by the left engine. The left engine apparently broke up, and the increased drag caused the aircraft to swing to the left. The right wing and engine stayed out of the water as the aircraft continued to swing to the left. The fuselage broke somewhere aft of the wing, causing a number of objects to be ejected forward as the remains of the aircraft came to rest.

    • Flight Control Surfaces: As the aircraft touched down, it did not appear that any of the leading or trailing edge flaps were extended. As the aircraft made its initial water entry, there appeared to be movement of spoiler panels on the left wing and rudder movement as well. The right wing was flexing, but there did not appear to be movement of any flight control surfaces.
  4. 15 January 2009; US Airways A320-200, New York, NY: The aircraft was on a scheduled passenger flight from New York (LaGuardia) to Charlotte, NC The aircraft struck a flock of birds shortly after takeoff and experienced a loss of power to both engines. The crew was able to successfully ditch the aircraft in the Hudson River near midtown Manhattan. The aircraft reached an maximum altitude of about 3200 feet before it began to descend. After ditching, all five crew members and 150 passengers evacuated the aircraft. One passenger sustained serious injuries. This event is not numbered because it is considered a significant event as defined by AirSafe.com. The following pages have background information about the airline, the aircraft model, and other issues related to this crash:
    Previous US Airways Crashes
    Other Significant A320 Events
    Bird Strike Hazards to Aircraft
    Selected Bird Strike Videos
    Bird Strike Study from the AirSafe.com Foundation


    Listen to AirSafe.com's Initial Report on this Accident


    Crash of US Airways Flight 1549

    Audio: MP3 | VideoiPod/MP4 | WMV | Google Video | YouTube

    For more videos, visit the AirSafe.com YouTube channel.

Resources
A Bibliography of Aircraft Ditchings

Jet Airliner Ditching Events
http://airsafe.com/events/ditch.htm -- Revised: 17 January 2009