In 2013, a small(ish) plane carrying 9 people suffered an engine failure shortly after takeoff and performed a water landing just off of Hawaii. You can read the details here.
The interesting thing is that one of the passengers had the foresight to turn on his GoPro, recording everything starting 30 seconds before touchdown. That video is here, cued to 2:25. The camera is in its waterproof case, so audio is very muffled. You can’t hear voices unless you turn it way up. However, one thing heard clearly before touchdown is a loud warning horn. I’m not a pilot, but given that it’s intermittent, I’m guessing it’s a stall warning, rather than an engine-out warning. Can a pilot confirm whether this is the case?
Also, it looks like the pilot never flared before touchdown. Is this to be expected for an engine-out landing, or did the pilot screw up by keeping it in stall all the way down instead of building up some airspeed to facilitate a pre-touchdown flare?
Shortly after the passenger with the camera exits the plane, it looks like the flaps were down. Would this be desirable during an deadstick descent (to facilitate a slower touchdown speed), or would it be better to keep the flaps retracted to improve glide characteristics? Or was it just that the flaps were still extended when the engine blew up (at 400’ AGL), and there was no power available to retract them after that?
That was kind of my point: if a flare would have been helpful, then the pilot should not have been flying an incipient stall all the way down; he should have nosed down early to build/maintain enough airspeed to facilitate a flare. But I don’t know whether a flare would have been helpful. If the pilot knew that the plane would be written off due to water damage, then maybe he estimated that an unflared touchdown was survivable for the occupants (despite damaging the plane) and it was best to minimize forward speed by coming down on the edge of stall.
Lotta questions; looking forward to input from a pilot.
Perhaps maintaining the level or slightly nose up attitude was more important than flaring. In stall conditions it may not have been possible to resume that attitude after a flare before hitting the water.
My guess would be that we are hearing the gear horn, rather than the stall warning.
In a water landing you don’t generally put the gear down. Flaps yes, but not gear because it would let in water more quickly, in addition to undesirable forces during the impact. With the gear down and the flaps deployed, most planes will have a gear warning horn go off. It’s inteneded to warn the pilot that the gear was forgotten in the landing configuration. You can sometimes pull a breaker to turn this off, but these guys wouldn’t have had time.
As for the flare, a flat attitude can be desirable in a water landing. You don’t want to flop the nose down. Keep it slow, but don’t stall.
Edit: Never mind. It was a Caravan - no gear horn because it’s fixed gear.
The gear tend to “dig in” so I assume a nose up would make the plane more likely to flop nose down when the back gear dig in, causing it to flop the nose down quickly and the nose dig into the water deeper. Flat landing is best. But yes, tempting a stall is just asking for uncontrolled belly flop or worse, a pitch nose down. One of the worst mistakes pilots make in this situation is to keep inching the nose up hoping to make those extra few feet to the road or field or whatever, only to stall while still dozens or hundreds of feet up.
FWIW, I remember my flight instructor many (many!) moons ago discussing landing flares. He said without a flare you’d do whats known as “flying the plane into the ground”. It’s very hard on the gear and you’ll damage it, so pilots don’t do it - with one exception: Landing a plane with pontoons on water.
Though in this scenario (no pontoons), I’d imagine flaring would be desirable if for no other reason than to reduce the landing speed. The only possible explanations I can come up with for purposely not flaring is to ensure the hull planes on the water, and to avoid a tail strike which might result in the nose digging in causing excessive damage and injuries.
Looks like there is a flare there to me, plane definitely has a nose up attitude just before it hits the water.
Edit to add: Tail hits the water first. Pilot definitely flares.
Was going to suggest that it’s incredibly difficult to gauge your height above the water, waves offer very little sense of scale, but there is land on the horizon in the video, so I don’t think that was the issue.
(Pilot of light aircraft, albeit low hours at ~150 hours in my CTSW).
He does flare, but really not a lot. With water landings we are trained that you want an exaggerated flare, you really want that tail in the water first to reduce the chance of the nose digging in and flipping the aircraft.
And yet when you look at successful water landings, you see that they enter the water very flat. And if you look at unsuccessful water landings, you see that entering tail first tends to flip the tail up and dig the nose in.
I remember one small floatplane pilot up north who mentioned that worse than waves, landing on extremely calm water on smaller lakes was a problem. With no texture to the water it was even harder to guess height. He would carry some moderate size rocks and drop one into the lake before turning back around for a landing, so the ripples would give him some help.
In the winter, the same trick allowed him to guess whether the ice was thick enough for skis - drop a rock. If it bounces, good, if it goes through the ice, probably don’t want to land there.
Well, you DON’T want the nose to be the first part of the aircraft to touch the water. Too steep a nose up angle and the water could just flip the tail up and there you are nose first. Wouldn’t you want some ground effect from a maybe tail just touching the water attitude until the aircraft flops down?
Another pilot checking in, although I have no experience with water landings or sea/floatplanes… which this plane I think wasn’t.
The warning horn sure sounds like a stall warning. When you’re going for slowest possible landing speed you’re going to be flirting with setting that off. It’s alarming to passengers but not inherently unsafe and in the proper circumstances is proper technique.
Is it proper here? I don’t know. I’ll also point out that it’s hard to tell from the video just how much the plane is or is not flaring. The fact the stall warning is sounding implies the plane has a nose-high attitude so there may be more of a flare than is apparent.
According to the doc I linked to in my OP, yes, that was this crash. The documents that were displayed near the end of the video I linked to also indicate that, yes, the passenger who died did indeed have pre-existing health issues that contributed to (or caused) her death shortly after the crash.
My recollection was that the pilot sustained significant injuries including broken rib(s), suggesting a very substantial vertical impact and/or forward deceleration upon touchdown.
Years ago, I happened to read the pilot’s handbook supplement for a Cessna (probably either a 185 or 206) outfitted with floats. When you’re over glassy water and can’t judge your altitude, it recommended holding a certain airspeed and rate of descent, and then just wait until the plane touches the water. With the correct settings, it would be a safe touchdown.
My only thing to add here is that I am not a big fan of those bolt heads on the back of the seat. Those look like they could do a lot of damage to your face in severe turbulence, not to mention a crash.