Land is always better than water when it comes to an emergency landing. Why?

If your plane is going to crash and you’re near the coast, will the pilots try to land in the ocean rather than the beach?

Large airplanes have very high approach speeds. This is the speed you have to maintain even in a ditching scenario to keep the aircraft from entering a stall (if lead to a stall, the descent rate can increase to such high rates, that the aircraft smashes into the water). At these high speeds landing an aircraft not designed for water landing can cause the aircraft to break apart.

It is not easy to assess the water conditions specially at a high altitude. If the swells are high and strong, the aircraft will rip into pieces once it makes contact with the water surface (history proves it).

It is way difficult to evacuate passengers after a water landing. This is specially true, if done in open sea. If the aircraft breaks up, some parts of it will go down the ocean quicker than the others, taking the trapped in passengers with them. Another thing is we being humans are not very accustomed to the sea. There are people who are dead scared of it and there are many who cannot swim. This can make the evacuation even more difficult.
Another thing is the condition of the water it self. If it is cold, the passengers and the crew it self might suffer from hypothermia. This can cause death.

Many answers talk of landing into a soft beach with gear down can cause it to flip. This is not necessarily true. There has been many forced landings into soft fields with gear down. And while some of them had the gear plow through into the ground it rarely lead to fatalities. TACA flight 110 landed into a soft levee. Everyone survived. Back in the early nineties an Indian airlines operated A300 made a landing into a paddy field. The aircraft nosed over but nobody in it died. Everyone made it out alive. The point is, a controlled landing into a soft field rarely leads to break up of the air frame.

So, if an emergency landing has to be done, a land mass is a better option than waters. Land is always more predictable than waters. And another important point is that it is much easier to conduct SAR operations when it comes to dealing with a force landing on land. This reduces the possible fatalities.

Many in the people talked about the Hudson landing. Well, that landing was done in extremely fortunate circumstances. The river was calm that day and the winds were light and the skies were clear. On the other hand how a river behaves is completely different to that of an ocean. Being a river right in the middle of a city, the rescue of the passengers started real quick. The Hudson was cold that day and even when the rescue came in no time, there was still evidence that many passengers suffered from mild hypothermia.

Imagine the same crash happening in low visibility conditions with bad weather and on a not so calm ocean. Things surely would have been a lot more different.

Written By – Anas Maaz, Airline pilot.