plane-crash-hudson.jpgIs the Miracle crash on the Hudson River the first truly good news story in a generation?
Frankly I’m still stunned at the gravity of what happened in this crash. I’ve had a curious fascination with air crashes since a young age, and this answered an age old question in my mind. Is it really possible for a plane to land safely on water?
We’ve all seen the safety cards in airplanes where they have a picture of a mammoth metal plane sitting perfectly flat and stable on a flat ocean. For me, I’ve always looked at that picture more than any other as the ultimate piece of bullshit propaganda. This same picture has inflatable escape chutes turning into life rafts which calmly move away from this floating metal plane. No way, no chance, it ain’t gonna happen… Yet this is exactly what happened last Friday evening.
The elements to this story from a news perspective are fascinating. A hero pilot from the old school, not a single death, on a busy river in one of the World’s top cities, no enemy except some unfortunate Canada Geese. No one is at fault, everyone survived, the equipment held up. The media can’t find any one to fault or blame. It’s a true, genuine, all happy miracle.
For me the accident leaves me with lots of questions. The most important of all is this… This single accident proves that a commercial airline CAN land safely on water. How can we learn from this to ensure every other landing on water can be the same?
This accident has already given hope and belief in the minds of millions that they too could survive an aircrash. Let’s build on this. The earth is 2/3rds water. Most international flights pass over water. If the lessons could be learned from this such that all commercial airliners have a better than average chance of being able to land safely on water, with no loss of life, think what that would mean to all flyers around the world. You’ve got at least a 50/50 chance of surviving an air crash. I don’t think anyone thinks that this is presently the case.
Here’s the ingredients… A modern carbon fibre plane, a good pilot, a stretch of water, not fully fueled. A controlled (albeit without engines) glide in at around 10 degrees. Presumably the ditch switch (which closes off intakes that would fill with water) just before touch down.
What the authorities need to do is examine to the nth degree these and all the other factors that enabled this miracle to happen. Once they’ve worked this out, it can be replicated. The maneouver might even be possible to write into a computer macro so that in a future scenario, close to ditch time, a pilot could engage the script to do the exact same thing. Airbus planes support this.
It may be that the ‘flukes’ in this case could become standardized fittings and operating procedure. For example adding flotation to the wings in some way (in this flight it seems that not being fully fueled helped the plane stay afloat – presumably air in the tanks kept it bouyant).
How much tolerance is there for the angle the plane hit the water? We all know from a belly flop that surface tension on water can be like a stone, but ‘dive’ into the water, separating the water apart with your hands and your head can pass straight through. In this case the tail served the same function.
Did the river current going in the same direction as the plane make a crucial difference? It’s clear that this crash was extremely close to the margins for the plane staying in one piece, or, disintegrating. Could a 5-10 mph current (my guess), bringing the impact speed down to maybe 120mph make all the difference?
For me the best thing that can come out of all of this is the relevant authorities standing up and saying “We’ve spent two years reviewing this crash. We now know why the plane stayed in one piece, why it stayed afloat, why the g-forces on the passengers were not damaging. We now know that any commercial plane can have a better than average chance of doing the same. These are the measures we are going to force airlines and manufacturers to introduce, to assure you that any ‘control surface’ landing into water has a very high chance of everyone surviving and standing on a wing holding their bags, on their phones, looking like they are walking on water”.
Kudos to the pilot, kudos (never thought I’d say this) to Airbus. This is a really great and genuine good news story.

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