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ISSUE 53 - February 2009
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That's what the manuals all say. If you’re going to put your flying machine down on the water, flat water is useful. Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed, Tupolev; they all have their version of just how it's done. And yes Mildred, ditching checklists are in all the aircraft operating manuals. They say things like:

"When landing on the open ocean land with the swells. Avoid the aircraft hitting the top of one, then slamming down into the trough beyond".

Good to know.

"Generally, using the flaps reduces the speed and reduces the pitch angle, leaving less chance of striking the rear fuselage first and slamming the nose down into the water".

I think I'll use flaps.

"Gear up is recommended".

The FAA even describes the safety requirements in the event of a ditching: (Federal Aviation Regulation Part 25, Section 801) "It must be shown that, under reasonably probable water conditions, flotation time and trim of the airplane will allow the occupants to leave the airplane and enter the life rafts required by 25.1415. Appropriate allowances must be made for probable structural damage and leakage"

Wow. Information. Proceedures. Advice. That's all great but it looks to me like 'most' of the modern day ditchings have come as a sudden surprise to everyone. Not much time to think it over. While airplanes have been going 'in the drink' since 1903 or so, let's just look at the airliner types from 1955 (the jet age).

1955 - March 26, 1955. Pan American Flight 845/26 a four-engined Boeing 377 Stratocruiser named "Clipper United States" had departed Portland International Airport on a flight to Honolulu. The aircraft was 35 miles from the Oregon coast when at 11:12 AM the No. 3 engine and propeller tore loose from the wing causing the aircraft to become almost uncontrollable. The aircraft was ditched and floated for twenty minutes before sinking in 5000 feet of water. After an orderly evacuation the survivors spent two hours aboard rafts and slides before the USS Bayfield arrived on the scene to rescue them.

1956 - April 2, 1956. North West Orient Airlines Flight 2, a Boeing Stratocruiser, ditched into Puget Sound shortly after an 8 AM takeoff from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac). As the flaps were retracted the aircraft then began rolling to the left and buffeting uncontrollably. Loosing altitude and with little control over their aircraft, they ditched in the 430 foot deep, freezing waters of Puget Sound. Their Mayday was heard by a Coast Guard vessel and an Air Force amphibious Grumman Albatross, both of which raced to assist. The aircraft was landed smoothly but the tail section broke off and it took on water quickly. All aboard departed safely using the seat cushions as flotation devices. The Air Force Grumman landed less than ten minutes after the ditching and launched life rafts. Not all were able to reach them and many remained in the freezing waters until rescued less than thirty minutes later by the Coast Guard vessel. Four passengers and one male flight attendant apparently succumbed to hypothermia and were not recovered. The Stratocruiser sank 15 minutes after the ditching.

1956 - 16 October, 1956. Possibly the most anticipated and documented ditching ever. Pan American Flight 943, another Boeing 377 Stratocruiser "Sovereign of the Skies", enroute from Honolulu to San Francisco ditched in the Pacific. Soon after passing the 'point of no return' (mid ocean) the number 1 engine seized, but the propeller would not feather thus causing excessive drag. With climb power on the remaining three engines, the number four engine began to backfire and power began to drop off. Calculating the additional fuel flow due to drag, the crew determined there was insufficient fuel to reach San Francisco. The plane was flown to Ocean Station November, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter 'Pontchartrain', and circled there until daylight. Aware of the Pan Am Flight 845/26 incident the year before, in which a 377's tail section had broken off in a water landing, the purser cleared passengers from the back of the plane. At 5:40 AM the cutter laid out a foam path to aid the captain's depth perception. (Determining your actual height above water or desert is very difficult due to the lack of reference).

The plane touched down at 6:15, at 90 knots with full flaps and landing gear retracted.

The tail broke off but all 31 on board survived the ditching.

Life rafts were deployed and all were rescued by the Coast Guard.

The wreckage sank in less than 20 minutes at 6:35.

In October 1963, an Aeroflot Tu124 was on a flight from Estonia to Moscow when a landing gear problem led to a diversion to Leningrad. The aircraft entered holding while the crew sorted out their gear problems. Then, 13 miles from Leningrad airport, the aircraft ran out of fuel. The crew managed to ditch the aircraft on the nearby Neva River, narrowly missing a tugboat which then sped to the floating airplane, cast a line and towed it to shallow waters. All 52 aboard survived.

1966 - On the 4th of February 1966 an All Nippon Airways 727-100 descending to land at Tokyo's Haneda Airport (HND) ditched short of the airport, broke apart and sank with all 133 aboard.

One Of JAL's stretched DC-8's, 'Shiga.' landed 2 miles short of the runway at San Francisco International Airport. The aircraft touched down in water only 8 feet deep, and when the landing gear settled into the mud, the water level was just at the bottom of the passenger doors. So smoothly did the aircraft land on and settle in the water, that many of the passengers accepted it as the expected normal landing. There were no injuries. The aircraft was recovered, repaired, and flown again.

1970 - On May 2, Antillean Airlines (ALM) Flight 980, a DC-9 leased from Overseas Airways, departed Kennedy International nonstop to St. Maarten. After three attempted approaches to St. Maarten in bad weather, the crew diverted for St. Croix. Enroute the crew realized they were too low on fuel to either make St Croix or too turn back St. Maarten. They ditched the aircraft in Caribbean with only 40 of the 63 passengers surviving.

1972 - On the 17th of July, 1972, a Tupolev Tu-134 approaching Moscow's Moskva-Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO/UUEE), Russia ditched in Moscow Channel after both engines flamed out on final approach. The crew had forgotten to switch on the fuel transfer pumps in time and starved the engines of fuel. All aboard survived.

1978 - On the 8th of May, National Airlines Flight 193, a Boeing 727-235 en route from Miami to New Orleans, at night in low visibility from fog, descending into Pensacola Regional Airport, impacted Escambia Bay, sinking in 12 feet of water. A non-precision approach to runway 25 was being used. While established on the approach the ground proximity alarm sounded and the first officer checked his altimeter. He read it as 1,500' and turned off the alarm. The flight data recorder showed their actual altitude at this point was only 500' and they failed to realize they had passed through the minimum descent altitude. They touched down in Escambia Bay. Three passengers drowned.

1980 - On 7 August 1980, a Tupolev 154B-1 operated by Tarom Romanian Airlines ditched in the water, 1000 feet short of the runway at Nouadhibou Airport (NDB/GQPP), Mauritania. All aboard survived.

1980 - On 10 October 1980, a Sudan Air 707, newly purchased from Air Lingus was being transferred from Ireland to Egypt. The aircraft was inadvertently ditched on the Nile River at Khartoum when the pilot mistook the moonlit river for the nearby runway. Within two days the airplane had been stripped bare by the locals.

1982 - On 9 February 1982, Japan Airlines Flight 350, a stretched DC-8-61, from Fukuoka to Tokyo was on approach to the airport when Captain Seiji Katagiri's reversed the DC-8's inboard engines in a deliberate attempt to destroy the aircraft. The First Officer and Flight Engineer worked to restrain him and stop the aircrafts decent but the DC-8 touched down in shallow water short of the runway with a loss of 24 of 166 passengers and 8 crew. Captain Katagiri was the first person on the rescue boat and, attempting to avoid detection, claimed to rescuers that he was an office worker. Captain Katagiri was later found not guilty due to insanity.

1996 - 23 November, 1996, Ethiopian Air Lines 767, having been hijacked by three men, ran out of fuel off the coast of the Comoros Islands. The pilot had been given clearance to land at Moroni Airport, Grand Comoro, but he knew the plane would not reach it and tried to land the plane in the water near the Galawa seaside resort. The hijackers were struggling with the crew for the controls when the aircraft impacted the water in a slight wing down attitude. The pilot and copilot survived but the hijackers did not, nor did 123 of the 175 passengers aboard.

A Boeing 707-351C of Trans Arabian Air Transport departed Khartoum for a flight to Mwanza. When they arrived there was no power at Mwanza but there was 5 miles visibility. After holding for 10 minutes, the airport generator came on and the runway lights went on. The first officer was flying a visual to runway 12. When well established on final the captain told the f/o that he was too low. The captain took over control and started a right turn when the aircraft bounced and came to a halt in the middle of the lake.

2002 - 16 January, 2002, an Indonesian Airline (Guarda) Boeing 737-300 had both engines flame out in a descend through rain clouds. Relights failed, the Captain set up a glide at 240 knots and decided to ditch on a river, the only clear spot in sight. The ditching was well executed and the 737 came to a stop, floating near the side of the river. One fatality, a stewardess who drowned in the 6 foot deep water.

2005 - August 6, 2005, Tuninter Air ATR-72, Flt. 1153, from Bari International Airport in Bari, Italy to Djerba-Zarzis Airport in Djerba, Tunisia, ran out of fuel and ditched into the ocean. The fuel gauge for an ATR-42 had been mistakenly installed on the ATR-72. The aircraft ran out of fuel mid-flight and the crew requested an emergency landing in Palermo, Sicily. The ATR glided for 16 minutes before ditching 15 miles northeast of Palermo International Airport. The aircraft broke apart on impact with 16 of the 39 aboard lost.

2009 - 15 January 2009; US Airways A320-200. The aircraft was a scheduled passenger flight from LaGuardia to Charlotte, NC. It struck a flock of birds shortly after takeoff and lost power on both engines. The crew ditched the aircraft in the Hudson River. The aircraft reached about 3200 feet before it began to descend. After ditching, all five crew members and 150 passengers evacuated the aircraft. According to the A320 quick reference guide, the ditching procedure calls for Flaps 3 and a minimum approach speed of 150 kts and Airbus recommends 11 degrees of pitch at the time of touchdown. Seems it worked out OK for them, freezing water and all.

Progress. Maybe. For me, I think the next time I'm due to fly over water, I'll be looking for someone still operating one of these:

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