Large Jetliner crash. Is a water crash more/less survivable than land crash?

Title pretty self explanitory. This assumes you know that your going down but have some control on where and how you can land. Which do you pick or does it even matter ? Im talking about 747s or larger not the glider type planes.

Oh and because i know how you guys think…you cant pick land then just “land” the plane. Its assuming no landing gear or something equally catastrophic that your destined to crash one way or the other and now its just a matter of which you choose.

Unless the plane slows down considerably hitting the water at a few hundred miles per hour and hitting the ground is pretty comparable in terms of destruction efficiency. If you have control over the airplane to the extent you can slow down and glide in, a large farmers field is probably the best place to go. Water might be softer at slow speed but the risks of drowning would (IMO) outweigh this.

I always thought a water ditch was preferrable if available. Yes water can be pretty damn hard and yes its gonna stink for the passengers but water has one important benefit…much less chance of fire and fire is what usually does most of the killing (assuming you didn’t slam nose first into whatever at over 500 MPH…fire won’t concern anyone aboard the plane then).

I would much rather put it down on land than the water. A water ditching is going to be just as bad or worse than a forced landing, in terms of the forces you will encounter. Then you will have the added trouble of exiting the aircraft, the exposure, etc. Help will be there sooner on land, and the equipment for rescue will be easier to come by.

I can’t think of a single advantage that a ditching would have over a forced landing. I don’t think it would even reduce your chances of a fire.

On preview, I see someone mentioned fire. Jet fuel and oil floats on water. I would much rather be running from a fire than swimming in it, trying to get away.

A 747 typically lands at 180 miles per hour. Water at this speed will be anything but a feather pillow. :slight_smile:

I think land would indeed be preferable. For one thing, people often envision a plane gently gliding across the surface of the water to a gentle stop, when this is hardly ever the case; unless you can manage to land at an incredibly low speed, the water will cause the plane to cartwheel out of control. The only “benefit” to a water landing that I can see is that there is less chance of generating sparks. While the jet fuel will float, it can’t burn without an ignition source, usually sparks made by the metal grating on pavement. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to burn to be dangerous. I hear it’s very caustic, and can cause blindness, along with other nasty things. But I could be wrong.

Not to mention the various other dangers of water; hypothermia, sharks, drowning, fatigue, difficulty moving (to get away from a fire), etc…

On the whole, given the choice, I would definitely choose a “land” landing over a water landing.

Is there any FAA statistical data out there that differentiates between water crashes and land ones and to see if there is a fatality % difference?

Jet fuel’s just kerosene, isn’t it? Hell, they make hand cleanser out of that stuff.

You can download video of a 767 ditching at sea (just off the coast)here, an Ethiopian Aurlines crash in 1996.

Look about half way down the page.

Having a rather intimate knowledge of how commercial airplanes are built, my choice would be a foamed runway. The foam is a mutton tallow/soap mixture designed to prevent sparks and fire and the tallow acts as a lubricant so the plane can slide to a stop without snagging or falling apart.

Commercial pilots do receive training for water ditching. I saw it on the flight simulators Boeing uses. In an ideal crash landing, the pilot would fly as slow as possible just above the water. With flaps down, the pilot would try in a short of time as possible, go stab down, spoilers up, and TR’s deployed. Hopefully the tail will drag the water and slow the airplane so the engines don’t dig in and cause the wings to shear off, this could tear the fuselage in two. From what I saw, the pilots that had experience flying tail draggers had a much easier time getting the hang of this manuever.

Don’t they ditch over water to avoid killing the people on the ground, rather than because it’s better for the people in the plane?

Yes, pilots are trained to avoid populated areas.

I guess this comes down to “define crash” - nose down at 300 kts is fatal, regardless of what the nose hits.

If you can get the thing horizontal, keep it horizontal, and slow it down, you may have a chance. In the few cases where those critical criteria are met AND there is a choice between land and water, I’d go with the smoother surface (noting that the surface of large bodies of water is rarely smooth).

The only case which comes to mind is the Alaska Air MD-83 with the failing stab. over the LA basin - in retrospect, they should have ditched during the couple of minutes in which they had control. Not knowing that they would lose the stab again, they tried to make it to a runway.

If you have control and can touch down at a reasonable speed, another big advantage of land is that the availability of emergency crews and hospitals is probably much better.

If you don’t have control and will be hitting the ground at high speed, it probably doesn’t matter.

I was slightly mistaken; jet fuel dessimates the body’s immune system, leaving it completely open to infection. They learned this the hard way during the Valujet cleanup in the Everglades, where fungus and bacteria were rampant, and combined with the debilitating effects of jet fuel, could easily result in nasty stuff like gangrene and ulcerous sores. And of course, as with just about anything, contact with the eyes could cause extreme irritation or temporary blindness. It’s not so much the petroleum that does this, as it is the additives that are mixed in to make it more efficient.

In the long run, jet fuel has also been proven to cause leukemia.

There are other worries, too. Hydraulic fluid, for instance, is extremely caustic and fatal if inhaled.

Jet fuel is fancy kerosene, with lots of additives. Pure kerosene might work as a hand cleanser, but it’s not recommended, and in any case your hands are less likely to be permanently damaged by chemicals burns than your eyes are. It’s nasty stuff, and you don’t want to get it in your eyes, your mouth, your stomach (by swallowing it) or your lungs.

All things being equal, you’re more likely to survive a landing on land than on water. Actually, in many circumstances hard pavement is preferable to soft dirt. A lot of factors go into a crash, including angle of impact with the ground which is one of the most critical.

Fire can and does occur with water ditching. A ruptured fuel tanks or oil lines can spread floating flammables over the surface of the water. Those flammables need only a spark or something hot to set them off. Since jet engines and jet exhaust both are extremely hot, having a running jet drop into oil/fuel covered water could start a fire quite easily.

At least with a land crash, if you’re lying there with a broken leg or two you’ll be able to keep breathing while help arrives. In a ditching, injured people usually drown.

In general, you only ditch if you have no other choice. If you can reach land you’re usually better off even if you still crash.

I’ve heard from a person in the industry that your chances of surviving a large commercial airliner crash at sea are around 1%.

I’ve also heard talk of sitting in the back of the plane “because it’s safer” rebutted with “Imagine an aircraft flying into a mountainside, then imagine a stick of asparagus being pushed into a blender. It doesn’t matter where you sit.”

I’m not scared of flying, but pin my hopes on not crashing rather than trying to survive one. Incidentally, I heard on Radio Netherlands this morning that 2002 was the safest year for commercial aviation in the last five decades, with only thirty-seven flights being lost.

It still beats driving.

That’s interesting, I wonder how they define “lost”.

The US had no air carrier fatalities in 2002. They did, however, have about 46 air carrier accidents.

I can live with those odds.

One more vote for the “land” landing versus the water landing. All of the reasons mentioned above are good enough, not to mention another: experience. Notice that the only time we practice ditchings (water landings) is in the simulator, and then only very rarely. We land on land every day.
The only situation that I can see choosing to ditch over trying to deadstick it onto land is maybe someplace similar to the coast of Chile around Santiago: very big, jagged rocks are the only land in sight, so the ocean becomes the flattest surface around. But given the choice between a huge lake and a huge field, I’m taking the field!

In terms of wilderness survival, land is a lot better than sea.