Emergency landing

Emergency landing
JetBlue Airways Flight 292 making an emergency landing at LAX

An emergency landing is a landing made by an aircraft in response to a crisis which either interferes with the operation of the aircraft or involves sudden medical emergencies necessitating diversion to the nearest airport.


Types of emergency landings

There are several different types of emergency landings for powered aircraft: planned landing or unplanned landing

  • Forced landing - the aircraft is forced to make a landing due to technical problems, or in rare situations with light aircraft, weather conditions. Landing as soon as possible is a priority, no matter where, since a major system failure has occurred or is imminent. This means that the forced landing may even occur when the aircraft is still flyable, in order to prevent a crash or ditching situation.
  • Precautionary landing may result from a planned landing at a location about which information is limited, from unanticipated changes during the flight, or from abnormal or even emergency situations. This may be as a result of problems with the aircraft, or a medical or police emergency. The sooner a pilot locates and inspects a potential landing site, the less the chance of additional limitations being imposed by worsening aircraft conditions, deteriorating weather, or other factors.
  • Crash landing is caused by the failure of or damage to vital systems such as engines, hydraulics, or landing gear, and so a landing must be attempted where a runway is needed but none is available. The pilot is essentially trying to get the aircraft on the ground in a way which minimizes the possibility of injury or death to the people aboard.
  • Ditching is the same as a forced landing, only on water. After the disabled aircraft makes contact with the surface of the water, the aircraft will most likely sink if it is not designed to float, although it may well float for hours, depending on damage.


If there is no engine power available during a forced landing, a fixed-wing aircraft glides, while a rotary winged aircraft (helicopter) autorotates to the ground by trading altitude for airspeed to maintain control. Pilots often practice "simulated forced landings", in which an engine failure is simulated and the pilot has to get the aircraft on the ground safely, by selecting a landing area and then gliding the aircraft at its best gliding speed.

If there is a suitable landing spot within the aircraft's gliding or autorotation distance, an unplanned landing will often result in no injuries or significant damage to the aircraft, since powered aircraft generally use little or no power when they are landing. Light aircraft can often land safely on fields, roads, or gravel river banks (or on the water, if they are float-equipped); but medium and heavy aircraft generally require long, prepared runway surfaces because of their heavier weight and higher landing speeds. Glider pilots routinely land away from their base and so most cross-country pilots are in current practice.

UAV forced landing research

Since 2003, research has been conducted on enabling UAVs to perform a forced landing autonomously. [1]

Notable examples of emergency landings

Large airliners have multiple engines and redundant systems, so forced landings are extremely rare for them, but some notable ones have occurred. A famous example is the Gimli Glider, an Air Canada Boeing 767 that ran out of fuel and glided to a safe landing in Gimli, Manitoba, Canada on July 23, 1983. On June 1982, British Airways Flight 9, a Boeing 747 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Perth lost power in all four engines, three of which subsequently recovered, eventually diverting to Jakarta. On April 28, 1988, Aloha Airlines Flight 243 experienced an explosive decompression mid-flight, forcing an emergency landing at the Kahului Airport with only one casualty, flight attendant Clarabell "C.B." Lansing. More recently, Air Transat Flight 236 ran out of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean on August 24, 2001 and made a successful forced landing in the Azores. On November 1, 2011 a Boeing 767 LOT Polish Airlines Flight 016 made a belly landing after a central hydraulic system failure at Warsaw, Poland's Frederic Chopin International Airport, with no injuries.[2]

A less successful crash landing involved Southern Airways Flight 242 on April 4, 1977. The DC-9 lost both of its engines due to hail and heavy rain in a thunderstorm and, unable to glide to an airport, made a forced landing on a highway near New Hope, Georgia, United States. The plane made a hard landing and was still carrying a large amount of fuel, so it burst into flames, killing the majority of the passengers and several people on the ground.

Airliners frequently make emergency landings, and almost all of them are uneventful. However because of their inherent uncertain nature, they can quickly become crash landings or worse. Some notable instances include Swissair Flight 111, which crashed near Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on September 2, 1998 while dumping fuel in preparation for a precautionary landing due to fire; United Airlines Flight 232, which broke up while landing at Sioux City, Iowa, U.S.A. on July 19, 1989; and Air Canada Flight 797, which burned after landing at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on June 2, 1983 after a fire started in the cabin.

Emergency water landings

US Airways Flight 1549 after ditching in the Hudson River

Several passenger and cargo aircraft and helicopter ditchings have been documented. These intentional emergency water landings are the result of an in-flight fuel depletion or mechanical malfunction and not an accidental overshoot of a runway or an uncontrolled crash into a body of water. The following figures show survival rates for passengers and crew:

  • US Airways Flight 1549, Airbus A320, New York City to Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, 15 January 2009, made a controlled safe water ditch into the Hudson River after losing thrust in both engines due to birdstrike at about 3000 feet altitude three minutes into the flight after a normal takeoff from LaGuardia Airport; 155 passengers and crew made an orderly evacuation as a NYC fireboat towed the floating aircraft with passengers standing on the wing. The survival rate was 100%.
  • On 6 August 2005, Tuninter Flight 1153 (an ATR 72) ditched off the Sicilian coast after running out of fuel. Of 39 aboard, 23 survived with injuries including serious burns. The plane's wreck was found in three pieces. The survival rate was 59%.
  • On December 4, 2004, Miami Air Lease' N41626, a Convair CV-340 cargo airplane with two pilots on board experienced an engine failure enroute between Opa-locka, Florida and Nassau, Bahamas. Unable to feather the propeller, the airplane rapidly lost altitude and the pilots ditched into Maule Lake, North Miami Beach, Florida. Both occupants were rescued. The survival rate was 100%.[3]
  • On 16 January 2002, Garuda Indonesia Flight 421 (a Boeing 737) successfully ditched into the Bengawan Solo River near Yogyakarta, Java Island after experiencing a twin engine flameout during heavy precipitation and hail. The pilots tried to restart the engines several times before making the decision to ditch the aircraft. Photographs taken shortly after evacuation show that the plane came to rest in knee-deep water.[4] Of the 60 occupants, one flight attendant was killed. The survival rate was 98%.[5]
  • On 23 November 1996, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 (a Boeing 767-260ER), ditched in the Indian Ocean near Comoros after being hijacked and running out of fuel, killing 125 of the 175 passengers and crew on board. Unable to operate flaps, it impacted at high speed, dragging its left wingtip before tumbling and breaking into three pieces. The panicking hijackers were fighting the pilots for the control of the plane at the time of the impact, which caused the plane to roll just before hitting the water, and the subsequent wingtip hitting the water and breakup are a result of this struggle in the cockpit. Some passengers were killed on impact or trapped in the cabin when they inflated their life vests before exiting. Most of the survivors were found hanging onto a section of the fuselage that remained floating. The survival rate was 29%.
  • On October 16, 1982, Colombian Air Force C 130 Hercules cargo aircraft ditched in Atlantic Ocean 330 kilometers east of Cape May, New Jersey after running out of fuel. Probably due to the buoyancy of the empty fuel tanks, the hull floated for 56 hours. 8 of the 13 occupants were rescued.[6] The survival rate was 62%.
  • On 21 August 1963, an Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-124 ditched into the Neva River in Leningrad after running out of fuel. The aircraft floated and was towed to shore by a tugboat which it had nearly hit as it came down on the water. The tug rushed to the floating aircraft and pulled it with its passengers near to the shore where the passengers disembarked onto the tug; all 52 on board escaped without injuries.[8] The survival rate was 100%.
  • On 23 September 1962, Flying Tiger Line Flight 923, a Lockheed 1049H-82 Super Constellation passenger aircraft with a crew of 8 and 68 U.S. military (paratrooper) passengers ditched in the North Atlantic about 500 miles west of Shannon, Ireland after losing three engines on a flight from Gander, Newfoundland to Frankfurt, Germany.[9] 45 of the passengers and 3 crew were rescued, with 23 passengers and 5 crew members being lost in the storm-swept seas. All occupants successfully evacuated the airplane. Those who were lost succumbed in the rough seas.[10] The survival rate for landing and evacuation was 100%. The final survival rate of the accident was 63%.
  • On 16 July 1962, a New York Airways Boeing Vertol 107 helicopter made an emergency landing in New York's East River after power failure. All 22 passengers were safely evacuated. The survival rate was 100%.[11]
  • In October 1956, Pan Am Flight 6 (a Boeing 377) ditched northeast of Hawaii, after losing two of its four engines. The aircraft was able to circle around USCGC Pontchartrain until daybreak, when it ditched; all 31 on board survived.[12][13] The survival rate was 100%.
  • In April 1956, Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2 (also a Boeing 377) ditched into Puget Sound after what was later decided to be caused by failure of the crew to close the cowl flaps on the plane's engines. All aboard escaped the aircraft after a textbook landing, but four passengers and one flight attendant succumbed either to drowning or to hypothermia before being rescued. The survival rate was 87%.
  • On 26 March 1955, Pan Am Flight 845/26 ditched 35 miles from the Oregon coast after an engine tore loose. Despite the tail section breaking off during the impact the aircraft floated for twenty minutes before sinking. Survivors were rescued after a further 90 minutes in the water. The survival rate was 83%.
  • On 19 June 1954, Swissair Convair CV-240 HB-IRW ditched into the English Channel because of fuel starvation, which was attributed to pilot error. All three crew and five passengers survived the ditching and could escape the plane. However, three of the passengers could not swim and eventually drowned, because there were no life jackets on board, which was not prescribed at the time. The survival rate was 63%.
  • On 3 August 1953, Air France Flight 152, a Lockheed L-749A Constellation ditched 6 miles from Fetiye Point, Turkey, 1,5 miles offshore into the Mediterranean Sea on a flight between Rome, Italy and Beirut, Lebanon. The propeller had failed due to blade fracture. Due to violent vibrations, engine number three broke away and control of engine number four was lost. The crew of eight and all but four of the 34 passengers were rescued.[14] The survival rate was 91%.
  • On 16 April 1952, the de Havilland Australia DHA-3 Drover VH-DHA operated by the Australian Department of Civil Aviation[15] with 3 occupants was ditched in the Bismarck Sea between Wewak and Manus Island. The port propeller failed, a propeller blade penetrated the fuselage and the single pilot was rendered unconscious. The ditching was performed by a passenger who was an off-duty airport manager.[16] The survival rate was 100%.
  • On 11 April 1952, Pan Am Flight 526A ditched 11,3 NW of Puerto Rico due to engine failure after take off. Many survived the initial ditching but panicking passengers refused to leave the sinking wreck and drowned. 52 passengers were killed, 17 passengers and crew members were rescued by the USCG. After this accident it was recommended to implement pre-flight safety demonstrations for over-water flights. The survival rate was 25%.

605 of 871 occupants of the above listed ditchings survived. A lot of passengers weren't killed by the impact but drowned because of hypothermia or panic. The average survival rate of the accidents listed above is 69%.

See also


  1. ^ Daniel Fitzgerald. "UAV Forced Landing Research". Daniel Fitzgerald. http://www.aerosys.com.au/uav_forced_landings/index.php. 
  2. ^ "Newark flight makes emergency landing in Poland 0". November 1, 2011. http://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/01/world/europe/poland-plane/?hpt=tr_c2. 
  3. ^ Ditching of Miami Air Lease N41626
  4. ^ Garuda Indonesia Fl421 at AirDisaster.com retrieved 2 November 2007.
  5. ^ Mark V. Rosenker. "NTSB Safety Recommendation". http://www.ntsb.gov/Recs/letters/2005/A05_19_20.pdf. 
  6. ^ http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1982/1982%20-%202566.html Hercules ditched successfully by Flightglobal.com]
  7. ^ Aviation Safety Network. "McDonnell Douglas DC-9-33CF N935F - St. Croix, Virgin Islands". http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19700502-0. Retrieved 2006-06-26. 
  8. ^ AirSafe.com (2002-03-28). "Jet Airliner Ditching Events". http://www.airsafe.com/events/ditch.htm. Retrieved 2006-06-26. 
  9. ^ Accident Details Flying Tiger Line Flight 923, PlaneCrashInfo.com
  10. ^ Born Again Irish by O'Caruso
  11. ^ Flight International 26 July 1962
  12. ^ Kebabjian, Richard. "1956/1956-27.htm". PlaneCrashInfo.com. http://www.planecrashinfo.com/1956/1956-27.htm. Retrieved 2006-06-26. 
  13. ^ Hokom, Wayne. "Ditch and rescue". Coast Guard stories. Jack's Joint. http://www.jacksjoint.com/panamrescue.htm. Retrieved 2006-06-26. 
  14. ^ Accident description Air France Flight 152
  15. ^ AviationSafety.net Accident Description VH-DHA Retrieved 2010-08-02
  16. ^ Loss of Drover VH-DHA Retrieved 2007-08-02

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