A landing in Costa Rica has recently caught some attention in media, for example here.

A flight from Madrid to San Jose allegedly experienced difficult winds and the pilots changed the descent pattern accordingly.

They approached the runway at a very low altitude, scaring both passengers and people on the ground. And considering the footage available in the article, I don't blame them.

The authorities however claim that this was a normal and controlled landing, and that there are no limits how low the approach is allowed to be over the area close to the runway. They admitted, though: "Sure it could have been a little higher, but the altitude and angle of the plane was fine."

Are the authorities right about this, or should the media's, the passengers' and the locals' concerns be taken seriously?

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    $\begingroup$ if "the media" is the dailymail, well.... $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Oct 9, 2015 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ Nothing in the Aviation Herald, so probably a routine landing. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Oct 9, 2015 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ For those that want to see the video without clicking the Daily Mail article: In the article, they show a short video credited to "YouTube/Johnny Vega". It appears to be taken from this longer video: youtube.com/watch?v=QNVqgUhmyU4 (the interesting part starts at 0:48). $\endgroup$
    – unor
    Oct 11, 2015 at 0:28

2 Answers 2


Please don't link to media articles in the general press, but especially not the Daily Mail who generally don't worry too much about facts and have no-one on staff who has a clue about aviation ("activate their tyres in time", "With its landing gear ejected, the plane comes perilously close to hitting ground level too early").

Just look at the rhetoric in the wording of the article body. It ticks all the boxes:

...within a few feet of terrified drivers...

...Shocked passengers on board...

...eye-catching video...

The Daily Mail tries to get at least one of these a month as clickbait and for comments.

Some critical thinking.

...grazed perimeter fence...

No evidence presented.

...why so many photos...

Because the road is right at the end of the runway and spotters gather there to take such photos.

...passengers shocked...

No evidence presented and most passengers are the worst possible judges of a good approach or not. How would they know?

...how low was it at the threshold?...

No evidence presented.

...airport authorities insist it was a normal and 'controlled landing'...

What evidence is there that it was not?

SJO is known for its tricky and low approaches. Nothing to see here.

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    $\begingroup$ Oh, I'd use all my votes to upvote this some more! $\endgroup$
    – Dan
    Oct 9, 2015 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ I totally agree with this assessment, the daily mail is a british paper famous for trying to get as many uses of "shocking", "perilous", "dangerous", and other emotive words into their articles as they can. I treat everything that paper says with suspicion. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Oct 9, 2015 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ The Daily Mail is Britain's USA Today of aviation journalism/ $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Oct 9, 2015 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ Please do not use code formatting for quotes. It messes things up mightily for those using non-visual browsers (e.g. screenreaders for the blind). These programs tend to read out code letter-by-letter, which will make this answer unbelievably tedious for such users. Quotation marks or quoteboxes are the appropriate ways to quote text. $\endgroup$
    – KRyan
    Oct 9, 2015 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ If the Daily Mail said the sun was rising in the east, I'd stick my head out the window to confirm it. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Oct 9, 2015 at 22:01

I would like to point out a few things in your source.

First, look at the bottom right picture. It shows an altitude of about 30 feet, guessing that an average airport fence is about 9 feet high (forgive me if I'm a little bit off, I usually use SI units). Then, if you look more closely, you see that the plane is not actually right above the fence at that point, but quite a bit past it, which means that it was higher when it passed the fence. So, no big problem there.

Then the pictures of the bottom of the airplane. You notice how the airplane looks very distorted, like it has a massive nose. This is because smartphone cameras generally have wide-angle lenses - an extreme example would be a fish-eye lens. They severely distort the intuitive concept of distances (closer looks VERY close, further away looks VERY far away)- if you try to inspect it a little bit more carefully, suddenly you realize the plane is about 4-5 times the height of the quite large tree in the center of the picture. Again, no big problem.

Then there's the picture of the plane going over the road. This is shot with a narrow angle lens (probably a good zoom lens or even a telephoto lens). This has the opposite effect of a wide-angle lens: things that are in reality separated a lot look really close to each other - my favorite example being this picture. So, while it looks like it's directly at the top of the hill, in reality it's probably much further away.

Then, finally: even if all of the above were false, it still wouldn't be a big problem. A stabilized approach is a stabilized approach. A lower glide angle makes some things quite a bit easier: your engines are spooled up higher which makes them more reactive, and your touchdown will be smoother than Mick Jagger's moves. Downsides: more fuel consumption, more noise and usually more turbulent winds, which was specifically not the case according to the story (indeed, they went low to avoid those winds).

  • $\begingroup$ 9 ft = 3 m; I'd say the fence is probably a bit lower. Still, plenty of room there (in the left image the shadow of the aircraft is over the road, but note the solar flare at the top of the picture indicating the shadow is likely quite a bit closer than the object casting it). $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Oct 9, 2015 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ I actually guessed 3 m, since fences around airfields tend to be a little more serious than for keeping bunnies out. Then again, I live near an airport that doubles as a military base, so that might have something to do with my guess. I also noted the shadow, but I wasn't sure about the flares since it's filmed with a potato. $\endgroup$
    – Sanchises
    Oct 9, 2015 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ smoother than Mick Jagger's moves +1 just because $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Oct 9, 2015 at 13:41

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