Intentional Ditchings of Jet Airliners

28 November 1996
Revised 7 September 2001

The AirSafe Journal - Issue 6

The 23 November 1996 hijacking and subsequent ditching of an Ethiopian Airlines 767 occurred during a hijacking when the hijackers would not allow the crew to land the aircraft and refuel. The crew ditched the aircraft near a beach in the Comoros Islands. This was only the third time that a passenger jet transport aircraft has had in intentional ditching with survivors. An intentional ditching is defined here as a case where the flight crew makes a deliberate decision to land the aircraft in some body of water. This definition excludes cases such as runway overruns into water, accidental controlled flight into water, or cases where the crew is unable to control the aircraft's descent. The two previous intentional ditching cases involved an ALM DC9 in the Caribbean in 1970 and an Aeroflot Tupolev 124 in the River Neva in Leningrad in 1963. This issue of the AirSafe Journal will discuss these three events and will also review the video of the 767 event taken by Mariana Gouws.


Tupolev 124 in the River Neva

Event Description: According to a report in Flight International Magazine in 1964, in October 1963 an Aeroflot Tupolev 124 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.

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ALM DC9 in the Caribbean

Event Description: On 2 May 1970, an ALM DC9-33CF 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.

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Ethiopian 767 in the Comoros Islands

Event Description: On 23 November 1996 an Ethiopian 767-200ER was hijacked by three people during a flight from Ethiopia to Kenya. 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 were also killed.

Video Analysis: An initial analysis of the Mariana Gouws video 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.

Related Events
Air Transat Fuel Exhaustion over the Atlantic
Unpowered Jet Airliner Landings

The AirSafe Journal - Issue 6 -- Revised: 24 May 2015