Assuming that it’s true that there’s never been a planned ditching of a commercial jetliner where all the passengers survived, I asked in my earlier post whether there’s even been one that didn’t have a catastrophic result. I’ve been reading over the pointers and impromptu research from readers on this question, and the answer seems to turn a series of qualifiers and definitions.
For instance, here is a list on Wikipedia of survival rates in cases where planes were intentionally ditched or landed in water. The examples run the gamut. But the gist is that while there are a couple cases of 100% survival, those were with planes that were much smaller and carried far fewer people. A Russian passenger plane was ditched in the Neva River in 1963. And everyone survived. But the plane had only a third the number of passengers as yesterday USAir flight had. A plane went down in the water in Java in 2002 after an engine flameout during a hail storm. In that case, one flight attendant died — out of 66 people aboard the plane.
Most of the ditchings seem to end something like how this one did in 1970 in the caribbean — with a substantial number of people surviving, but a lot of fatalities too.
Then there are cases of unintentional water landings. You’d think those would not go as well as the intentional ones. But there was a 1968 case in which a Japan Airlines plane miscalculated where the runway was and came down in the water about two and one-half miles short of the runway at San Franciso International. There were 96 passengers aboard. And all survived. You can actually see a picture of the crashed plane here (.pdf), which looks surprisingly similar to yesterday’s incident. But again, this is seen as being in a different category since the plane was not in distress. The pilot just misjudged where the runway was.
I’ll post with more examples if they come in.
Late Update: Apples and oranges. This incident in Sweden in 1991 was different from the ditchings we’ve discussed. But in some respects it’s quite similar. MD-81 takes off with 122 passengers and seven crew, quickly develops problems in one engine and then a similar failure in the other. At this point they’re at 3000 feet with no power. They try to get back to the airport for an emergency landing. But they come out of the cloud cover and 600 feet and decide to put down in a clearing in the forest. The plane breaks into three pieces and two passengers were seriously injured. But no fatalities. The cause of the engine failures was determined to be overnight ice on the wings which had entered the engines.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.