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Tundra or water?

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  • Tundra or water?

    I posted this same question on the Cessna Pilots Association forum and received the following answers. I recently joined this forum and thought it would be interesting to see what opinions you might have on this subject.

    I am a new pilot and during many of my recent flights I have gone through some emergency procedures, in particular where I would land. I usually have two choices: 1) Tundra (aka-hummocks), which is typically extremely uneven with anywhere from 1-3ft holes between each hummock. 2) Water. Lakes and shallow creeks. Some creeks have short sandbars.

    My plane is still on standard C-172 tires. Although the tundra is rough, it is vast and would allow for time to really bring the plane in slow and soft. The water is obviously very cold here and many times the creeks are lined with brush and/or trees.

    Water or tundra?
    You will roll up into a ball in short order if landing on muskeg. Water is not much better. Get used to point landings and hope you can hit the shoreline of a lake, or aim between the trees and hope shedding the wings will slow you down without flipping. It can be a different ball game up here, but if you are always looking options will appear for landings (well, sometimes). Ridges are almost always better than any meadow or low flat spot.

    I figure water is the last resort for me, but have no evidence one way or the other.

    Its normal to wonder about such things. After awhile I either stopped worrying, or just figured if the time came, I'd land it somewehre, somehow. Enjoy the scenery.

    I have no experience with Tundra, but did learn something from my 20k hour CFI.

    I used to fly out of an airport where the runway parallels the Columbia River. There's also a lot of development at both end, so where to land in an engine out situation is always a debate.

    I always figured that I'd ditch it in the water since it's big and wide, but my CFI pointed out that water is almost as hard as concrete/dirt, etc. at these kind of speeds and you'll most likely be knocked out in either case. Where do you want to be unconcious; in the water or on land?

    It sounds as if you typically have shallow water so this may be different and can allow you to slow down like those Cub pilots dragging their wheels in the water to land on a small sandbar.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of flying! I have a fair amount of experience with tundra on the North Slope and I would land on tundra every time. Although some tundra is very hummocky and could grab the wheels (especially the nosewheel, of course) if your technique is good enough, you might be pretty slow by the time it does. From then on, it goes to the question, as Bill said, would you rather be unconscious on tundra or in water? A lot of tundra isn't as bad as it looks. That is, it looks hummocky, but once you're in it, you realize the hummocks aren't that tall. Again, they'll still grab your nosewheel, but by that time you'd be going slow enough that at worst your plane would go over and you'd find yourself hanging from your seatbelt. I'd look for drier tundra--the hummocks are likely to be smaller there. I'd also practice making feather-light landings while holding the nose gear off as long as possible.

    Muskeg is a whole different ballgame, as Sean points out. I think I'd still prefer muskeg to water, although I'd sure want my DEET handy!

    Whats going to knock you out will be your face hitting the dash or control wheel. Install shoulder harnesses (e.g. BAS) and you can significantly reduce, or even eliminate, this possibility. I've seen a video of an amphib landing with wheels down in the water. They flip instantly when the wheels touchdown. Pilots walked away (literally, as it was a shallow pond) without injury. Shoulder harnesses were required! Same would be true if your nosewheel caught early in a tundra landing.

    I take a little different view since I fly a 210. I took my father and brother to Canada a couple of years ago for a fishing trip. Prior to departing on our last leg, I had everyone get out their flotation vest and I put on my survival vest. I briefed them that, in the event of a forced landing, I would probably choose one of the lakes rather than land in the trees or an area which appeared to be open where the trees were cut. Without landing gear to flip me, I figured a smooth water landing, close to shore, would be preferable to a questionable attempt to the ground.

    I have a friend who put two 172s into the water in Honduras and know someone who did a third one. None flipped. They landed full flaps slowly and nose high.

    All of these thoughts are exactly what I have gone over in my head, so I really appreciate all the replies. The small lakes and tundra ponds are never large and would always allow for near shore landings. However, it probably doesn't take much depth to drowned you if you are unconcious. I have also considered the ridges. Even the rolling hills are better than the swamps below. However, they are usually fairly short and of course drop off! I do have shoulder harness seatbelts and as of this week, carry flotation jackets.

    Regarding the shoulder harness seatbelts....mine are not tight against my chest, unless I scoot further forward than I would rather be. The lap portion tightens just fine, but the chest portion maxes out. Anyone else with this problem? If so, what can be done inexpensively?

    I will say that if you put it into the water make **** sure the doors are unlatched.....

    That comes under the catagory of "Don't ask how I know".

    Check out this site at Ditching Myths

    It is worth the read.

    Ditching in the water is survivable as statistics show; it is what happens after the ditching as to whether or not the pilot/passengers survive.
    Last edited by Webmaster; 08-18-2006, 11:02. Reason: Poster request

  • #2
    I'd hate to be wet after surviving the crash. I've heard willows are a good place for an unplanned decent. Ones that are around 6 ft tall.
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    • #3
      water or tundra..

      In Alaska, ditching without immediate rescue usually means death from cold water or hypothermia in short order. Ditching would always be my last resort.

      I have made a forced landing on tundra in the Alaska range and ended up on my back. No injuries, minor aircraft damage. I have also ended up in the muskeg with another guy and the damage was almost none.

      Staying dry is the big thing. Having a wreckage on even inhospitable terrain might at least allow some shelter, fuel, and supplies.


      • #4
        Given the choice to execute a controlled crash in water or tundra, I'll take the tundra without any question. While some tundra areas are low and wet, you can almost always find a high area that's less wet and therefore firmer. If everything's low and wet, I'll aim for the small stands of Black Spruce, which indicate the firmest ground in the area. Those little trees are either flexible or brittle and would offer a fine place to crash.

        Wheel planes have no business in the water. I read the response that says the guy has three friends that've ditched without flipping. They must fly nose draggers and be extraordinarily lucky. I'd suggest they should find better equipment. I doubt any taildragger would stay upright after contact with the water. Besides, the water in Alaska is certain death. I'll take my chances on terra firma.

        By the way...your 172's nose gear will fold under well before it flips you. If you hit the ground at stall speed the result should be quite survivable, even in hummocks. You may be surprised and just roll to a stop.


        • #5
          Tundra unless you have no choice at all. Crazy to survive a forced landing and then drown or die from hypothermia. You took lessons and I'm sure they told you full flaps, nose up and just off the ground let her stall. Kind of a sliding pancake sort of landing. Get a good five point restraint system and you won't even kiss the yoke. That gear will come off and absorb a lot of the energy in the crash so you should walk away to fly another day.


          • #6

            Make a point of checking off emergency landing spots as you go along. and remember those you just passed. Having and using shoulder harnesses is the most important advise here.

            You can survive just about any forced landing if you keep your wits about you. I have lived through a nose over in a berry bog with no injuries and hardly any to the plane.
            Plus a rather bad sideways landing into a muskeg water ditch, which ejected me through the passenger door of a C-170B. Thanks to a non-functional BAS enertia harness. That kinda hurt....

            Recently a good taildragger pilot put a Cub Legend into the great lakes while flying back from Osh. He managed to keep it upright since he pancaked her into the water. He later died because they had no floatation devices. The second pilot managed to stay afloat long enough that help arrived.

            You will note several instances of pilots and fisherman surviving extended periods of time in Alaskan waters. The common thread seems to be that they were older and had not been told that they were supposedly going to die immediately. One of our local pilots here on Kachemak By managed to tread water for 45 minutes after his twin took a dump into the bay. While the boats were looking for him, he was rescued by another pilot flying an L-19 Birddog on floats.

            Although I do agree that staying dry has some very obvious advantages.

            Every time you are hiking around someplace, look at the brush, trees and ground cover. Think about what you could use to slow the planes impact speed. Don't try to save the plane at the expense of human life. Unless its' my plane or my ex-wife. Then reverse that.

            Since I primarily teach float flying these days, you would be amazed at the places a float plane can make an unscheduled stop. Suddenly every 8 inch deep pond looks appealing.

            Your biggest enemy in that situation being big dead beetle killed spruce. Those things are stiff and hard. Plus the branches break off and create spears.

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