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17 January 2009 Clarifies the Definition of Ditching

After the extensive coverage of the 15 January 2008 ditching involving a US Airways A320, there has been an unprecedented public interest in the subject of airliner ditchings. On the day after the accident, USA Today quoted's data that there had only been three previous ditchings involving passenger jets. Several people sent me feedback pointing out events that they believed had been overlooked by I reviewed those events and excluded them, but after reviewing the ditching page at, I decided that the definition that was provided was not completely clear.

I revised the definitions page at to include the following definition for ditching:
An event where the flight crew intentionally lands an aircraft in some body of water such as a lake, a river, or the open ocean. In addition, the event would have to meet the following conditions or criteria:
  • Accidental or unintentional landings or excursions onto water are excluded, such as runway overruns or controlled flight into water.
  • Uncontrolled impacts with water are excluded.
  • The body of water must be deep enough that if the aircraft sinks, some or all of the occupants would have to evacuate the aircraft cabin to avoid drowning.

This definition is consistent with how has always defined ditchings. If you believe that the definition needs further work, by all means leave a comment to this post with your suggestions.


  1. You incorrectly state that the Ethiopian B767 that ditched near the Comoros Islands in 1996 had run out of fuel. This myth persists to this day. Had that actually happened the RAT would have been deployed. But as the video clearly shows, the RAT is stored and its cover door is still closed under the right wing root.

  2. Speaking as an old professional aviator, it looks to me, via this definition, like the lawyers are continuing their takeover of everything. Just a good thing old Captain "Sully" was of a generation, like me, who pretty much ignores the "Esquires" and takes care of getting the job done.