I understand that there may be many different scenarios and situations, and that a similar question has some answers to this, but I was wondering if there are answers with existing examples. Some different scenarios are as follows:

General Aviation Airplane:

  1. Landing on the beach
  2. Landing on a road/interstate highway
  3. Parachute Deployed Landing (Cirrus SR22) in a dense forest
  4. Ditching in water

Large Jet Airplane:

  1. Landing on the beach
  2. Landing on an empty road/strip (such as the Gimli Glider)
  3. Ditching in water (such as the Hudson landing)

I understand that the first priority is saving the souls on board. However, after that, the second-most important priority would be to recover the airplane as it is definitely a very valuable asset to the owner/company.

For all the above scenarios, what is a proven/tried method of recovering and towing while ensuring that the aircraft (or parts of it) can be put to use again?

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    $\begingroup$ Depending on the country, the aircraft cannot be recovered by the owner until the NTSB (US) or the investigating organization releases it. It is then typically "owned" by the insurance company, not the owner, at that point. How or if it is transferred back to the owner depends on the extent of the damage. In the case of water landings, many times the aircraft is not recovered (at least for GA) unless there is a compelling reason to do so. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Sep 8, 2016 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ Here is a timelapse video of the recovery of the "Hudson Miracle" 1549 A320, the aircraft itself is now in a museum. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Sep 8, 2016 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ After TACA flight 110 landed on the levee they changed the damaged engine at the site and it took off the adjacent road $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Sep 8, 2016 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ This question seems very broad... it would be good to split at least GA and large jets into separate questions, as they will be very different. Maybe even further splitting the scenarios, depending on how much detail you are looking for. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Sep 8, 2016 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer The "owned by the insurance company" part assumes the aircraft is totaled, right? Landing on a highway doesn't necessarily total an aircraft. I seem to recall an incident not far from where I live where a GA pilot ran out of fuel and landed on a highway. The aircraft was 'recovered' by getting some avgas in a tank from a local airport, refueling the aircraft on the highway, and taking off from the highway. And, like Tom said, there was a similar result even with a 737 in TACA 110. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Sep 8, 2016 at 19:14

1 Answer 1


This really breaks down into a few categories:

Flyable aircraft, Flyable location

For general aviation aircraft or airliners that are in flyable condition (or only require minor repairs) and are located somewhere you can fly them out of the usual solution is to offload as much weight as possible, take off, and fly to an airport.

There are countless cases of light GA aircraft taking off from roads or fields after precautionary landings. In the large aircraft world the Gimli Glider flew out of the racetrack, and TACA 110 took off from a nearby road.

Flyable or Salvagable aircraft, Unflyable location

If the aircraft is flyable but can't take off from its current location, or if the aircraft is salvageable but requires more extensive repair work than can be accomplished where it is, alternative transport methods need to be considered.

For light aircraft the usual solution is to disassemble the aircraft, load it on trucks, and take it to an airport where it can be reassembled and repaired to be flown away.
This is also an option for most airliners, and was in fact the original recovery plan of action for TACA 110 that I mentioned above.

Disassembly, trucking, and reassembly is generally more expensive than flying the aircraft out of wherever you landed it, but aircraft insurance policies generally include provisions for this because simply leaving the aircraft where it is will often be even less economically attractive.

Wrecked aircraft, wherever it is

If an aircraft is largely intact but unlikely to fly again in the near future (or ever) due to damage the recovery operations are effectively the same as above, but they're dictated by legal and financial requirements: Environmental regulations may preclude leaving a wrecked aircraft wherever it landed, and financially the components and materials may be salvageable or valuable as scrap. As long as the costs of recovery are less than the profit to be made (or the fines to be incurred just leaving the aircraft where it is) and the hazards involved in the recovery are manageable the aircraft will usually be recovered.

On land the aircraft (or pieces of it) will once again be loaded onto trucks to be transported somewhere where they can be examined and then stripped/sold.

Aircraft in relatively shallow water will be generally recovered by dredging or hoisting with crane if doing so is feasible. This gets most of the "big stuff" (wings, fuselage sections, etc.) though in a badly damaged aircraft smaller pieces may be left where they are. (The recovery of US Airways 1549 is particularly spectacular in this regard, as it's hoisted basically intact.)

Aircraft in deep water are often not recovered - it's simply not feasible from a financial or risk management standpoint (sending people down to an extreme depth just to recover a machine that's going to be cut up and sold for scrap is hard to justify).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Regarding the last paragraph, the usual reason when aircraft are recovered from deep water is not selling them for scrap, but rather accident investigation (and, if there were people still inside, potentially return of the occupants' remains to their families.) For example, AF447, QZ8501, and the attempts for MH370. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Sep 8, 2016 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab I didn't consider recovery for accident investigation "in scope" for the question, but yes that's often a reason to spend the time and money dredging up an aircraft from deep water. (As a private operator if my Cherokee sank in a trench somewhere and I got out I'd say just leave the thing there, but if the NTSB wants to spend the money doing the recovery I'm game as long as I'm not footing the bill!) $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Sep 8, 2016 at 20:50

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