Aviation experts say ditching plane in ocean at night is nearly impossible to survive

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Aviation experts say landing a 100,000-pound jet in the ocean in the middle of the night would be nearly impossible to survive. They said there were a couple of conditions that worked in the two pilots’ favor on Friday, July 2.

Experts said one good thing is that the pilots did not have to ditch the plane in the channel where it would have been windier and choppier, and so landing the plane safely and getting rescued would have been more difficult.

Large jet planes like the Boeing 737-200 series are not designed to land in the water. Experts said it would take a lot of skill and experience to do it safely.

“You’re going at landing, usually 140-150 miles an hour and you hit 3-4 foot waves. At that speed is almost like running your car at 60-80 miles per hour into a brick wall,” said Capt. Christopher Benham, a United Airlines pilot.

“It’s really tough at night in a high speed airplane because you don’t have the visual cues that you have in the daytime,” said Peter Forman, aviation expert.

Experts said the plane must have been severely damaged because it started to sink right away. The good thing is that rescue crews spotted the pilots before the plane was completely underwater.

“Once the airplane sinks, it’s much harder to find people,” said Forman.

Jet planes can still maintain altitude and land safely even when one of two engines stops working. Forman and Benham believe the second engine failed, which is highly unusual, and will likely be the focus of the investigation.

“Otherwise, with a single engine out they should be able to circle, go over the ocean, come back and land,” said Benham.

“Was there bird damage? Was there some type of fuel contamination? Those are the kind of things the FAA is gonna look at right away,” said Forman.

The cargo planes are known to have loud engines, so they fly out to sea as they gain altitude. The aircraft was trying to land at Kalaeloa, the nearest airport, when trouble began.

“When there was an engine failure the pilot started a big right turn just to continue back to the airport to land,” said Forman.

Benham said the plane usually has two flight data recorders — also known as black boxes. Investigators will want to recover them from the ocean to find out what happened.

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