A Water Landing? You've Got to Be Kidding

Back in 2006, I blogged about a bunch of nonsense that they do on commercial airline flights, including the idiocy of schooling passengers on what to do in the “unlikely event of a water landing.”

My friend Peter Thompson‘s research found that there had been more than 150 million commercial flights since 1970 without a single water landing.

How rude of Chesley Sullenberger to make Peter Thompson start counting over from zero after saving 155 lives in a water landing yesterday. Doesn’t he know how long it takes to count to 150 million?

Matt Heintz

This guy is ridiculous... he runs a safety consulting firm and has a gliding license, talk about having the right person has a pilot


I was thinking of Levitt's post yesterday as I watched coverage of the water landing.

One interesting note: in the ubiquitous photos of the passengers standing on the wings (e.g. http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article5527910.ece), almost none of them are wearing their life preservers! After listening to that song and dance every time you get on a plane, you finally crash in the water and still no one listens to the instructions!

Luke R

That's too funny. I remember reading this article which implied that a safe water landing was impossible and as a result, I never paid attention to the flight attendants' instructions on what to do in a water landing.

Thanks to Sullenberger's heroics, I will now listen to the safety instructions.

Edward Hake

Over 150,000,000 plus flights without a water landing will mean nothing to the lawyers. Only question is which shark will file the first suit.

John Buckmaster

Ditching in commercial flights is rare, but check Wikipedia to see a list of such incidents, all with high survival rates, since 1956, and some since 1970. And there have been many ditchings of small airplanes. Anyone who learns to fly understands that, in the event of an engine failure, water can often be a better choice than land. And certainly a slow nose-up flare, of the kind used in the old days when landing airplanes with rear wheels (a 3-point landing), is the way to do it. For a single engine airplane with retractable wheels and a low wing, landing on smooth water, there is every reason to believe that the outcome will be successful, with plenty of time to exit onto the wing. For other geometries there could be greater risks of nosing over, and/or exit problems.


"without a single water landing"

Is anyone parsing the term "landing" versus "crash"? there have been multiple water crashes since 1970- world wide.

A crash would be a plane interacting with a body of water in such a destructive way that it didn't matter whether the passengers had floatation devices or not.


Did any of the passengers use any of those inflatable life vests under the seat? If so, that would be the first known use of the vests since they were required on aircraft.

It's comforting to know that the odds of winning Powerball are greater than the known odds of an emergency water landing (1 in 150 million). We've finally found something less likely than winning the Mega Jackpot.

Calvin Cheng

At least we now know what the odds are of an unlikely water landing. One in 150 million.


My suggestions:
Why don't they airlines have the instruction videos playing in a loop in the terminal?
For those on the window exit duty - how about a "training" real window exit door we can try out to see how really hard it is to open in the terminal as well?


I'm pretty certain there was an impromptu water landing back in the 90's... if I recall correctly a terrorist armed with a knife tried to fly an airliner into a hotel... the pilots wrestled with the hijacker, missed the hotel, and hastily had to put it down in the water. Most people aboard survived, if I recall correctly.

Will have to try and dig up the news story...


Here you go, back in 1996. Pilot ditched in the ocean, 125 of 175 aboard died:



Internationally, there have actually been 16 or so water ditching events according to Wikipedia...


Natali Del Conte

So what would the probability of a water landing be now?

And how does that humble pie taste? :)


In the 70's I remember a Japan Airlines flight hit the water right in front of the San Francisco Airport, he missed the runway on approach by about 2-300 yards. That was a water landing, I believe nobody was hurt.

not Beck

Beck, the marketing executive, said he had flown all over the world on business but never bothered to read the seat-pocket emergency cards. "I wasn't sure what to do" as the plane fell from the air, he said later. "I tried a few different positions. I ended up putting my arms on the chair in front of me and covering my head and face. All I could think about was that movie 'Airplane' where they say, 'Assume crash positions,' and everybody lays on the ground."



I have concluded that the entire incident was a gift from "above" so we could all focus on this miracle versus a certain president's farewell address to the nation.

To many amazing coincidences for it to be other wise ...


And, how rude of Mr. Sullenberger to make those passengers swim in the Hudson River on one of the coldest days of the year.


So now we know it is a non-zero probability; still probably not worth listening to the instructions.


The question now remains, do you want to now cough up your 3 cents for those pesky life vests Mr Levitt?

Matt Gibson

I've actually heard that no one has actually been saved by one of those "flotation devices" under the seat.

How's that for "consumer confidence"?