Hi Capt Lim,
I really like your site. It has made me much more comfortable to fly today.
I have a question. We are flying to Hawaii from Portland in a few weeks' time and I have a fear of flying over water, especially if something should happen. You said that land is always an hour away. I can't figure this one out.
Can you explain how we could get to land if we had a emergency, especially if we were halfway there? Thanks so much.
Professional Services Coding
When I said land is about an hour away, I was referring to certain specific routes. As I have not flown on the Portland to Hawaii route, I have just referred to the Pacific Ocean Chart and found that the distance between any 2 airports on the route is about 2000 nautical miles. So, if you encounter an emergency at the halfway mark, you are about 1000 miles from land. On a Boeing 777, you would be about 2 hours 20 minutes from a suitable airport. This is not a problem for the Boeing 777 is certified to operate on a one engine maximum diversion time of 180 minutes (3 hours).
I mentioned in a previous answer about an United Airlines Boeing 777 that flew for 192 minutes on a one engine diversion after it had a technical problem on a route from Auckland to Los Angeles. It made an emergency diversion and landed safely at the Kona airport in Hawaii on 17th March 2003. It exceeded the regulated 3 hours by 12 minutes due to strong headwind and that was not a problem on the engine.
There has been an over-emphasis of single engine diversions when in fact, statistics have shown that most diversions, whether by 2, 3 or 4 engines plane are mostly due to weather or medical reasons rather than because of engine failure. So if something does happen halfway, say an engine failure, a Boeing 777 can easily divert on the remaining engine for the 2 hours 20 minutes duration without any difficulties.
You mentioned about fear of flying over the sea. I have written about ditching in a query from another reader earlier. To make you feel better, I would like to elaborate a little bit to make the ditching topic more complete. Ditching is a term we refer to when an airplane makes a landing onto water, either controlled or uncontrolled. Controlled ditching can arise when the airplane is forced to land on the sea because it is about to run out of fuel (engines still running) because of some fuel leak. Uncontrolled ditching arises when the airplane has no more power left to maneuver the plane for a touchdown onto the water. Just like the Titanic with life boats, a Boeing 777 has 8 slide/rafts, each capable of carrying an average of 58 passengers or a total of 466 survivors.
Assuming a safe ditching has taken place over the sea, the 58 survivors in each slide/raft would have some equipment and survival paraphernalia on board to keep them busy until rescue arrives. Unlike during the Titanic period, air or sea search-and-rescues are getting more efficient today. Out of the 8 slide/rafts, two are equipped with emergency locator transmitters (ELT) that are activated automatically when it is wet. The ELT would assist rescue aircraft to locate the survivors' position floating on the sea. It would continue to transmit emergency signals up to 50 hours at a range of 100 to 280 miles.
If it is raining or sunny, the survivors could erect an orange fabric canopy over their heads in the slide/raft. It has many aids to attract the attention of rescue aircraft or ships, such as heliograph - a specially designed mirror to be used in bright sun light. It can be seen for miles away. Then there are the daynite flares to be used when rescue aircraft or ship is sighted. To make the location of the raft more visible, sea dye markers are provided to ensure the trail of the dye can be easily seen. Each individual life vest is also attached with a whistle for attracting attention and help.
If survivors are thirsty, there is drinking water on board; hungry, barley glucose sugar to munch on! Feeling sea-sick? There are 'Sea Legs' tablets from the first aid kit. When it gets dark, there are flash lights. If the raft leaks, it can be mended with repair clamps; excess water can be sponged and even a bailing bucket is provided. There is also a hand pump to inflate a slightly deflated raft. Feeling bored? There is a survival manual to read too!
Hope these little facts would make you feel less fearful of flying over the sea should the unthinkable ever happen. Touch wood :-) !!