Emergency Landings on Highways and Byways

26 Mar 10 2 Comments

There is an interesting article in Slate Magazine this month:

How to land a plane on a highway. – By Tom Vanderbilt – Slate Magazine

There are no hard numbers on annual occurrences of airplane landings on highways or streets, but a troll through the Federal Aviation Administration’s incident database shows that there tend to be more than a dozen such events in any given year (that the FAA knows about, at least). The events range in nature and geography. Mechanical difficulty ranks prominently in the causative universe. But pilots running out of fuel (“fuel starvation,” as investigators put it), whether owing to unforeseen flight complications or actual negligence, is common, too. One FAA report dryly refers to a plane that “landed on a public street to discharge a passenger.” And emergency landings can take place on deserted country roads, residential neighborhoods, or bustling thoroughfares. As the FAA’s Les Dorr, after looking through the database himself, put it to me in an e-mail: “Highway landings are rather more frequent than I would have thought.”

It certainly does seem to be a not infrequent occurrence in the US. I guess it’s easier to find a wide bit of road than it is to find a flat field. I have to admit I’d be tempted by a nice stretch of asphalt if it were free of traffic.

There’s a number of good landings (by which I mean that the pilots walked away!) that have been captured on camera through lucky circumstance. These are my favourites clips from YouTube.

I have watched this cockpit footage of an emergency landing in Florida over and over and it still makes me hold my breath:

This one is footage from a police car, the camera on the dashboard catches a vintage T-6 landing on a Wisconsin highway:

This news clip shows the Cessna taking off from the road after a successful emergency landing on Interstate 95.

And this very clever CG movie still makes me shout “hit the brakes you idiot” when the driver first looks into the rear-view mirror and sees the jet:

What other (successful!) road landings do you know of?


  • Amazing videos! And always the same question: would you land with or against the traffic? Maximise visibility from cars but also maximise impact energy with cars, or sneak in behind them and hope they won’t hit the brakes too hard when you appear in the rear-view mirror? :-)

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