Consider a landing at a remote island (like Easter Island or perhaps one with a calm lagoon, like YLHI) in which the aircraft is likely to crash and close the airport. (For example a gear-up landing at a single-runway airport.) Under these circumstances would it be better to ditch than to attempt the landing at the airport, thus keeping the airport open for emergency aircraft?

If the above question is unanswerable: Has there been advice issued from an aviation safety authority regarding such a scenario?

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    $\begingroup$ Well, you're the emergency aircraft aren't you? $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Sep 13, 2018 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that the Chilean aviation authorities only allow one plane at a time to be en route to Easter Island (more or less) for precisely this reason. $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2018 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ Note: Getting fuel to remote locations like these is difficult, and therefore expensive. So any plane flying there will likely be “tankering”, that is it will already have fuel for the return trip on board. It makes it easy for it to divert if the airport gets closed for whatever reason. (Easter Island is relatively large and popular, so it probably gets decent supply by ships, but the other small places are less likely to). $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Sep 13, 2018 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ What if the lagoon is already full of ditched aircraft and there isn't any more room? $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2018 at 3:55

2 Answers 2


In general, it's a bad decision to ditch if there's an alternative, even a gear-up landing (Sully ditched in the Hudson because the alternatives were much worse: virtually certain total loss on board, plus significant ground casualties due to dense population). The safety of the crew, passengers (if present), and people on the ground is the first concern of a captain or PIC. Ditching seldom ends well, and often results in 100% fatalities, because even with a perfect ditch, rescuers often can't reach the aircraft quickly.

For a sufficiently remote location that incoming flights may not be able to return or divert (like the example, Easter Island), there may be an option to land alongside the runway (potentially a better choice for gear-up anyway, in a location without a large fire crew, since grass is less likely to start a fire than tarmac), both for safety and to keep the runway open.

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    $\begingroup$ I believe landing on tarmac is preferred. Less chance of digging into the grass/dirt and flipping/cartwheeling/etc. after touchdown. Than the intact aircraft can just be dragged off the runway if needed. $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Sep 13, 2018 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ Hazards of grass vs. tarmac likely depend on the aircraft configuration. Engines below the wings, you're probably right. Planes with smooth bellies (like most business jets, for instance) may or may not be better on pavement. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Sep 13, 2018 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ Also, "landing beside the runway" may involve using a taxiway as a landing surface :) (as long as ATC's cool with it, of course) $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2018 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ Looking at Google Earth, Airport Mataveri does not have a taxiway, so it's grass or runway $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2018 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ I was specifically thinking of Easter Island -- Lord Howe Island has even fewer options, with mountains close to both sides of the runway. There, the choice might well be, ditch or crash on the runway -- but Lord Howe Island at least appears to have emergency services; Easter Island is just a strip of asphalt, no services (or was last time I saw photos). $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Sep 13, 2018 at 19:21

If your aircraft is likely to close the airport you are the emergency. If another aircraft has an emergency requiring them to divert to the same airport in the same time as you have closed the airport (vanishingly likely). You give them the exact situation you are trying to do.

Don't do something in an extremely unlikely situation because you are afraid another person might come along in an even less likely situation. They have to come along while you have closed the airport, you just have to have an emergency.

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    $\begingroup$ That said, it does happen. LaMia 2933 and another airplane were both approaching Medellín with fuel issues; part of the reason the LaMia flight crashed is because they didn't announce their fuel emergency while the other aircraft did (and thus got landing priority). $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Sep 13, 2018 at 22:40

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