Pilots & Aircraft

Can Planes Land On Water?

plane land on water


Most aircraft land and take off at an airport on land. Wheels are what support planes to move along the hard surface. But what about water? Although conventional planes can land on the ground, will they be fine on water?

They are planes that are designed to land on water with no issues. Seaplanes, flying boats, and amphibious aircraft (which can take off and land both on water and land) are safe to do the job.  However, in Aviation, there is a difference between landing on water and water landing or ditching. 

Water landing

In aviation, “water landing” or “Ditching” is the synonym used for crash landing into the water of an aircraft that was designed for it. 

This is rare when the control cabin crew knowingly decides to control the emergency landing of commercial aircraft or any other aircraft on a body of water that was not designed for take-off and land from water. 

A water landing is unpredictable when you land at a very high speed; it can break the aircraft similarly to hitting the land. However, if the aircraft makes contact with the water in the right way; the water slows down its momentum without destroying it.  Most ditching deaths are from passengers and crew drowning, not with immediate impact. How successful persons can escape is very crucial for survival. 

The FAA implemented the regulations for commercial aircraft based on routes, the number of passengers, and operators to carry emergency equipment containing floating devices (Slides raft, escape sides, and life jackets). Moreover, The FAA does not necessitate commercial pilots’ training for ditching, but airline control cabin crew must be trained on the standard evacuation procedures. 

Commercial Aircraft Design and Water landing

A few planes are designed so that it does not sink immediately if a water landing was needed. Some manufacturing companies designed aircraft with the perspective of a water landing or ditching, such as Airbus, have the feature of “ditching button” to close all the valves and underneath the opening

  • Avionics inlet
  • Air inlet for ram air turbine (RAT)
  • Inward & Outflow valves
  • Flow and Extract Valves

 So, when this ditching button is pressed it closes all these valves and underneath openings to slow down the flooding in a ditching or water landing.

US Airways Flight 1549 Ditching

a320 hudson river plane crash

In 2009 Flight 1549 of US Airways ditched on the Hudson River, and all passengers survived.

The US Airways Flight 1549 (call sign ‘Cactus 1549’), on 15 Jan 2009, was an Airbus A320-214 flight from New York LGA (LaGuardia Airport) to North Carolina CLT (Charlotte Douglas).  While during the climb phase of flight, at 3:27:11, the aircraft was struck by a flock of birds from New York City LaGuardia Airport Runway 4 at 3:24:56 pm at 2,818ft. Both engines (CFM56-5B4/P turbofan) were compromised and had shut down.

Water Landing of Flight 1549

When the pilot realized that both engines had shut down and flamed out and the aircraft is unable to reach the nearest airport for an emergency landing because after reaching the altitude of 3,060ft, the aircraft started descending at 210 knots. When the plane was above the George Washington Bridge, captain Sullenberger planned to water land or ditch into the Hudson River. About 90 seconds later, at 3:31 pm, aircraft A320-214 made an unpowered ditching, the inside of the North River sector of the Hudson tidal.

Sullenberger was ordered to evacuate the cabin. The cabin crew began evacuating the passengers through 4 overwing windows and a slide raft operated from R1 (right front door), and all 155 passengers survived.

Sully Water Landing Miracle or Reality?

Many Peoples call this incident of water landing a miracle because it was not normal for an emergency like this to have such a successful outcome. This occasion has been named the “Miracle on the Hudson” in the movie Sully. This was a safe landing more than a crash water landing. The A320, fortunately, made the landing, managing to stay “afloat” while passengers evacuated.  

Boeing 737 Water Landing into the sea of Honolulu, Hawaii

The aircraft Boeing 737 flight was routed from Honolulu to the Island of Maui Kahului Airport; when it departed from Daniel K Inouye International Airport, their first engine cut off, and the second engine was runny too hot, and they were losing the altitude.

737-200 transair 810 hawaii

The pilots knew that they are in trouble. They tried to return to Daniel K Inouye International Airport, but they realized they are unable to do so because they were losing altitude but they were forced for ditching or water landing, and they did so at about 1:30 a.m. local time.

The Coast Guard of the United States found the debris of B737 about 2;30 after 50 minutes of getting the initial alert, and they found one pilot on the tail of aircraft said by Lieutenant Gleb-Borovok and, a Second pilot was found floating on the bed of cargo. Both pilots survived, but they were injured, and they were sent to Honolulu’s Queen’s Medical Center for treatment. One of them, who is 58, is in critical condition and in intensive care. 

In this case, the pilots managed to escape the aircraft. Looking at the picture above, the plane eventually sunk into the bottom of the ocean floor.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 Water Landing

On 23 November 1996, Boeing 767-200ER Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 was routed from Addis Ababa-Nairobi-Brazzaville–Lagos–Abidjan and, the aircraft Hijacked by three Ethiopians when it was routed from Addis Ababa to Nairobi.

 When three Ethiopian men took control of the cockpit and hijacked the airplane and they took a fire extinguisher and Axe from the cockpit and threatened the pilots to blow the aircraft if they do not comply with their demand. Moreover, they said they are 11, but they were only three; they also addressed the passengers and crew by intercom that if someone will interfere they have the bomb and blow out the aircraft.

The aircraft was out of Fuel, and Captain Leul told the condition to the hijackers. Still, they ignored the warning, and the pilot began to go around in a circle to land the aircraft on the International Airport of Comoros but left the engine flameout. After few moments, they also lost the right engine.

Hijackers told captain Leul to land at a speed more than 175 knots, and the pilot tried to make an emergency landing. Still, due to fighting with the hijackers at the last minute, the captain lost the visual point reference and didn’t locate the airport. He ditched the airplane in the shallow water parallel to waves for the smooth water landing, but the left engine and wingtip hit the water and entered the water unevenly; thus, the aircraft broken apart, and this broke fuselage sank rapidly.125 Passengers, including three hijackers, died, 46 got injured, and 50 survived. 


can planes land on water

Water landing and ditching are rare, and water landing is unpredictable when you land at very high speed; it can break the aircraft similarly to hitting the land. But it depends on how you land the plane. If you land at a right way, it would be a Miracle and safe for all passengers as in 2009 Flight 1549 of US Airways aircraft A320 ditched on the Hudson River and all passengers survived but if you hit the water in the wrong way it would be the cause of death of many peoples as on 23 November 1996, Boeing 767-200ER Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 ditching caused the death of 125 passengers.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter!

Receive updates from Everything Aviates 

Invalid email address
Try it out! You can unsubscribe at any time.

6 thoughts on “Can Planes Land On Water?

  1. Hi Brian,

    It’s indeed an interesting article to learn that hitting the water the right way could save all passengers’ lives, just like the one that ditched on the Hudson River back in 2009. The second and the third cases showed the opposite stories with deaths, injured, and survivors.

    I wonder why FAA doesn’t necessitate commercial pilots to do training on ditching? By doing that, there should be more chances that passengers could survive. Don’t you think so?


    1. Airlines do train crew with ditching procedures. Of course, the aircraft must first survive the impact, then the crew can evacuate. Great question.

  2. Watching planes land on water is an awesome sight. I love your photos. The only thing I don’t like about planes landing in water is ther mere thought of not getting out of the plane. Vast amounts of water tends to frighten me for some reason and makes me hesitate.

  3. This was fun to read! It’s cool to watch planes takeoff and land on water (if they are meant to do so), so crazy to think about how the art of flight has evolved over time. I remember watching the Miracle on the Hudson in real time when I was younger, it was unbelievable. Captain Sully truly was a hero that day and helped to save the lives of so many people. Thank you for putting this together and highlighting some of the past instances of planes landing on water, this was an interesting read!

Leave a Reply to Brian Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.