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Aviation History Month Day 22 - 22nd of November 1968

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

A Japan Airlines DC-8-62 touched down 2,5 miles (4 kilometers) short of Runway 28L at San Francisco International Airport. The aircraft landed in the San Francisco Bay on this day in aviation history in 1968.

JA8032 resting at the bottom of the San Francisco Bay

JAL Flight 2 was operating the scheduled Tokyo to San Franciso flight, the DC-8-62 (JA8032, "Shiga") was one of the latest jets to join the JAL fleet. All of the 96 passengers and 11 crew evacuated the aircraft without injuries. Both the captain and the co-pilot (also a captain) had a vast flying experience, although limited on the DC-8. Due to the fog and low clouds, the captain of the flight decided to fly the ILS coupled to the Autopilot. Both he and the co-pilot had never flown such an approach.

Passengers and crew seen in rafts and boats just after the touchdown.

The aircraft came to rest in the shallow San Francisco Bay (only 7 feet (2.1 meters) deep and the overwing exits and the forward exits remained above the waterline. The evacuation was initiated (by voice as the Passenger Address system had failed) by the purser, who shouted to the passengers "Be quiet, the plane has reached the bottom of the sea. It will not sink. Do not worry, we are well-fixed for evacuation" The captain was the last one to leave the aircraft. Once all passengers were safely ashore, he returned to the aircraft to make sure that the personal belongings of the passengers were returned to them.

Surprisingly the aircraft was only lightly damaged, and 55 hours after the water landing it was hoisted out of the bay.

The aircraft being lifted out of the San Francisco Bay

After being lifted out of the aircraft was washed down with 20.000 gallons (76.000 liters) of fresh water on a barge and transported to the airport. External damage was very limited, with the biggest damage being the right-hand main gear bogey, which had a wheel sheared off. Further light structural damage was observed.

After an in-depth inspection, it was estimated that the aircraft could be returned to flight in under 6 months. United Airlines offered JAL to repair the aircraft for $4.000.000 (well over $28.000.000 in current days). JAL accepted the offer, and after completion of the repairs, the aircraft was returned to JAL on the 31st of March 1969. It would continue to be operated by JAL until 1983 After which it continued flying for several operators until it was withdrawn from service and scrapped in December 2001.

The NTSB concluded that the cause of the water landing was: "The improper application of the prescribed procedures to execute an automatic-coupled ILS approach. This deviation from the prescribed procedures was, in part, due to a lack of familiarization and infrequent operation of the installed flight director and autopilot system.".

The final NTS report into the accident can be found here

The aircraft in 1975, still in service with Japan Air Lines

Some specifications of the DC-8-62;

General Characteristics

  • Crew: 3

  • Capacity: 180-259 passengers

  • Length: 47.98m (157ft 5in)

  • Wingspan: 45.23m (148ft 5in)

  • Height: 12.92m (42ft 5in)

  • Wing area: 271.9m2 (2927sq ft)

  • Empty weight: 64,366kg (141,903lb)

  • Powerplant: 4x 80.1kN (18,000lb) Pratt & Whitney JT3D-3B turbofans.

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