Re: 747 forced ocean landings -- survival odds

From:         Albert Thomas Bozzo <>
Date:         21 Dec 94 02:17:41 
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[Karl, if you'd rather kill this thread, I'd 
understand completely. I can, however, probably find cites for the 
DC-8 anecdotes without too much trouble if desired... --Tom]

On 14 Dec 1994, Karl Swartz wrote:

> The bottom line, so to speak, seemed to be that an airliner might float
> for a surprisingly long time.  I believe much of this was based on a
> Pan Am Stratocruiser which was forced to ditch in the Pacific in the
> 1950s, but don't trust my memory too far.
Your memory is correct in that there were at least two (relatively) 
successful Stratocruiser ditchings -- the other that I'm thinking of was in 
Puget sound and may have involved a Northwest aircraft. Again, this is 
entirely from memory...

Turning to significantly larger aircraft, while trawling for data on a 
matter unrelated to airline accidents, I came across news items regarding a 
pair of DC-8 accidents circa 1969-70. (Unfortunately, I did not get citations
at the time.)

In one, a JAL DC-8 landed well short (miles) of SFO. The 
circumstances of the landing notwithstanding, the aircraft stopped in one 
piece and settled into mud. The aircraft was not in danger of sinking per 
se and was evacuated because of leaking fuel. The aircraft was extracted 
from the mud, found to be in good condition despite over two days of salt 
water immersion, and was repaired and returned to service, as I recall.

If anyone knows more about the circumstances of the JAL mishap and/or its 
aftermath, I'd be interested to hear about it, or be pointed to an
appropriate source.

In the other incident, a SAS DC-8-62 ditched in the Pacific off Los 
Angeles. (A UAL 727 had crashed close-by not long before this accident, 
if this jars any memories.) This was one of a series of closely-spaced 
mishaps, which merited a story in AW&ST featuring an astonishing 
photograph of the aircraft. The fuselage had split just aft of the wing 
and the tail section sank (apparently most of the fatalities were trapped 
in this part of the aircraft). However, the rest of the plane floated for 
quite some time; it sank during an attempt to tow the wreckage to shore.

> >There's a blazing discussion underway in rec.aviation.misc about
> >forced ocean landings of 747s.  At issue are the odds of the plane
> >staying in one piece, how long it would stay afloat ...
In a nutshell, there's no reason a controlled water landing cannot in 
principle be survivable (this presumably abstracts the earlier s.a.a.
discussion of ditching). However, the rafts, probably unlike the plane,
are designed to float indefinitely. Except in extraordinary circumstances
I don't think I'd need much convincing to abandon ship.

Department of Economics
University of Maryland at College Park