Water landings: Some facts and figures to consider

If you fly over bodies of water, then a recent post about water ditchings by Paul Bertorelli for AVweb is well worth reading. Paul began his post by mentioning a recent ditching of a Cessna 310 13 miles off the coast of Hawaii (probably due to fuel exhaustion) and then commenting that such incidents are not all that uncommon.

Paul then recited some of the following data and statistics that he has collected over the years about water ditchings:

  • For warm water ditchings where the chance of survival in the water is measured in hours rather than minutes, the chance of survival is well into the 80th percentile.
  • Pilots and passengers rarely get trapped in the aircraft as the uninjured egress rate is more than 90% in most waters. The exceptions being deep ocean bluewater where its slightly less while the survival rate is markedly less in a deepwater ditchings at night. Otherwise, the overall survival rate after leaving the aircraft is 88% for general aviation aircraft based on a study of about 220 accidents over 30 years.
  • Rivers and lakes are the best places to ditch followed bays and estuaries and then open oceans. However, there is not enough data to draw any definite statistical conclusions.
  • Helicopters will almost always turn over after a ditching while fixed wing aircraft will sometimes turnover but often will not. Hence, a turnover should be less of a concern for general aviation pilots.

Finally and if you are wondering whether or not you should ditch with full power or try to press on to land and risk ditching with no power, Paul pointed out that a water landings will be tough enough even with power. Hence, he would just cut his losses and ditch. Then its just a matter of waiting for the aircraft to stop, releasing the seatbelt and opening the door.

At the end of his post, Paul once again reiterated the survival rate of water ditchings – meaning it might actually be a better option than attempting a landing where there are trees and rocks.

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