This is a curious question. We were flying back over the Gulf today. Captain Sully made his heroic landing in the Hudson River. New York was crowded and I know he had no choice.
If he had a larger area, he could he have chosen the river, a field or a highway.
Which would have been safer?
In Captain Sully’s case, the river landing would have been the better choice. If it were a field, it would require a flat and hard surface of considerable length. A highway would not be a good option due to its width, electrical lightings and cars moving along the road.
If there is a suitable landing spot without any obstructions, an emergency landing can successfully be carried out. A good example is an Air Canada Boeing 767 that ran out of fuel and glided to a safe landing in Gimli, Manitoba, Canada on July 23, 1983 (see videos below). Gimli was a disused airfield which was converted to a go-kart racing track.
Airliners, unlike light planes, would generally require long and prepared runway surfaces due to its heavier weights and higher landing speeds. Hence, what is safe for a light plane or glider may not necessarily apply to a larger plane. In my opinion, it would be safer for a light plane to land on a field than on water like what Captain Sully had done. There has been many cases of light aircraft having landed safely on fields, roads or highways.
My conclusion is that, the safest landing for airliner on emergency would be on a straight, flat, paved surface that has no obstructions along its path.
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Flight 1549 3D Reconstruction, Hudson River Ditching
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