Has a life rift ever been successfully deployed in the event of an air accident involving a commercial aircraft?

For the purposes of this question a "life raft" is an inflatable device designed specifically and only to be used as a life raft and normally stored inside the aircraft, not some multi-purpose or makeshift device.

Criteria for inclusion:

  • A commercial jet flight after 1945
  • Carrying paying passengers
  • Minimum aircraft capacity 50 people, although fewer may have been on-board at the time
  • Raft stored inside the aircraft prior to deployment
  • Raft designed for this purpose, i.e. not just something a passenger was randomly carrying
  • The raft actually worked as intended, i.e. people were able to float on the water in it and not drown

In short I'm asking about the rafts often seen stored away on commercial flights. The raft may have been used on rivers or the ocean.

enter image description here
(Image source) A Boeing 737 ceiling compartment where such raft can be stored.

  • $\begingroup$ huffpost.com/entry/mircale-water-landings-be_b_11969142 $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Jun 17, 2019 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ Are you excluding the inflatable emergency exit slides that deploy from doorways and which are explicitly designed to detach and function as life-rafts? $\endgroup$ Jun 17, 2019 at 14:32
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @RedGrittyBrick yes $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jun 17, 2019 at 15:12
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Just to save other folks some time: the rafts used during the "Miracle on the Hudson" appear to have been the inflatable emergency exit slides. $\endgroup$ Jun 17, 2019 at 21:41
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ And those do not count?? $\endgroup$ Jun 17, 2019 at 21:49

2 Answers 2


enter image description here
Passengers used rafts to get off the plane; news.com.au

Miami Air Flight 293 (3 May 2019)

More than 140 passengers have managed to escape from a plane crash as a Boeing 737 jet slipped off a runway and into a river. (news.com.au)

There is a list on Wikipedia for water landings, not counting non-jet and not counting overruns, and by checking photos, it seems none used cabin-storable-rafts. The accident shown and linked above is a runway overrun (although it was not excluded from the criteria listed).

This article also confirms the rafts came from inside:

Eric and the pilot wrestled one of the six life rafts out the forward cabin door, down the evacuation chute [i.e., slide] and into the water.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @user: 90 pounds give or take. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Jun 17, 2019 at 15:15
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ US pounds are the same as UK pounds I think, so about 40kg. Not quite as bad as I expected for the size. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jun 17, 2019 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelSeifert: A chartered flight is still commercial, just like a scheduled flight. (Different regulations in USA, but both are commercial – for hire.) $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Jun 17, 2019 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ Good this question hadn't been asked two months ago! :) $\endgroup$
    – Pavel
    Jun 18, 2019 at 6:48
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Pavel the beauty of stackexchange is that even if it had, someone could post a new answer after the Miami Air accident and get full credit for doing so. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2019 at 12:43

For a historical example:

Japan Airlines Flight 2

On 22 November 1968, a DC-8 flying from Tokyo-Haneda to San Francisco accidentally undershot the runway at its destination by quite a bit and ended up in San Francisco Bay.


(Image originally by the United States Coast Guard, via the San Francisco Chronicle, via AlexHorovitz at Wikipedia, via Sealle at Wikimedia Commons, cropped by Josve05a at Wikimedia Commons.)

The 107 passengers and crew on board, none of whom were injured, evacuated the aircraft into five of the aircraft's seven liferafts:

Two liferafts were stowed in ceiling compartments over the aisle adjacent to rows 1 and 2.


Five 25-man liferafts were stowed in ceiling compartments in the aft passenger compartment. Three of these were in the area of the over-wing exits over the aisle seats at rows 12 and 14 and two in tandem were over the aisle at row 31, the last row of seats, and just aft of this row. [Page 22 of the report, numbered as page 20.]

The two forward stowed liferafts were removed from their compartments. One was launched at the main door and the other was launched through the forward service door.

Two of the four rafts stowed in the over-wing area were utilized. One was launched from each wing. One of the rafts stowed in the aft portion of the fuselage was carried forward and launched over the right wing. All of the wing-launched rafts were deployed from the leading edge of the wing.

Although some of the tourist-class passengers evacuated from the forward doors, generally the first- class entered the two forward rafts, while the tourist passengers entered the raft at the left wing and one of the rafts at the right wing. The remaining raft on the right wing was occupied by the captain and JAL employees.

From the passenger and crew statements, it was estimated that 29 passengers (no crewmembers) evacuated through the forward left door; 16 persons, including the flight engineer, navigator, and a stewardess, evacuated through the forward service door; 28 evacuated from the left wing, including at least two stewardesses and three JAL male employees; 25, including the first officer and a stewardess, occupied the inboard raft on the right wing; and nine, including the captain, purser, and two stewardesses, occupied the outboard raft on the right wing. [Pages 23-24 (numbered as 21-22).]

(My emphasis, and the passengers and crewmembers who evacuated from the forward doors and the left wing also disembarked into rafts; it's just that each forward door [and the left wing] had just one raft each, so, for these exits, there was no need to distinguish who got into what raft, unlike the situation with the right wing.)

  • Commercial jet flight: a scheduled JAL flight in a DC-8-62. Check.
  • After 1945: occurred in November 1968. Check.
  • Carrying paying passengers: 96 of them. Check.
  • Minimum aircraft capacity 50 persons or more: there were 107 on board, including 96 passengers, and Wikipedia gives the maximum passenger capacity of a DC-8-62 as 189. Check.
  • Raft(s) stored inside cabin pre-deployment: in ceiling compartments above the aisle (similar to those in the 737 in the photo in the OP's question). Check.
  • Raft(s) actually designed, and put there, for that purpose: see previous bulletpoint. Check.
  • Raft(s) worked as intended: well, everyone on board evacuated into the rafts uninjured, and nobody drowned. Check.
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    $\begingroup$ How can you post about this incident and not mention the Asoh defense, aka "I f___ed up"? :) $\endgroup$ Oct 7, 2019 at 13:48

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