Success rate of off-airport forced landings

I’m trying to find data on the success rate of off-airport forced landings (for airplanes without a ballistic chute). I think anti-chute pilots are overconfident on their ability to deadstick it in anywhere and walk away unscathed. I’m having trouble finding the data I need. I’ve checked the NTSB’s General Aviation Accident Dashboard and CAROL, as well as AOPA’s Richard G. McSpadden (formerly Nall) Report, but neither allow me to filter the way I need.

I’d basically need to filter for single engine piston airplanes, powerplant failure and off-airport landing, then fatalities or major injuries. (I’m looking for hard data, not anecdotes or opinions.) Any suggestions on how I can find this data?

The problem is that most off field landing result in little to no damage and no injuries, so they never enter the final NTSB status. I followed every forced landing that I could find for the better part of a year. There are around 2-3 forced landings per day. My goal was to stratify them according to cause, stall speed etc. What I found was that the rates of survival were in the high 90’s, but no way to build the spreadsheet, because there was no formal investigation unless substantial injury or damage. So I quit tracking.

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Chuck has the answer as to why these statistics are misleading if you can even find valid ones. If the aircraft is not really damaged they do not get reported and there is no requirement to report a piston engine failure. Only turbine failures are reported to the NTSB.

But I am not sure numbers matter. What really matters is fate. You can be the best pilot on the planet and do everything right to get that airplane close to the ground. But you still carry a lot of energy to land (have to be at or above stall speed). Fate determines where you go down and if you do not enough room to dissipate that energy to a stop you still die!

The laws of physics work against you. The chute hits at about 17MPH and the Cirrus is designed to absorb that energy vertiaclly. A landing typical single engine piston is at least 60 MPH at touch down. Hit an immovable object and you cannot survive the impact. When you double the speed to quadruple the energy.

Your fate is determined landing without a chute in the last several feet; that you cannot control. Many open areas look great from 1000 feet up! But down low the obstacles show up very late (rocks, fences, poles, stone walls etc.).


Yeah, the only thing I could find was this article: Emergency Landings - AOPA

First the author delineated the difference between precautionary landing, forced landing and ditching. Then he compared the fatality rates:

The rate for precautionary landings is 0.06 percent. If you recognize a developing engine problem and can make a precautionary landing, you and your passengers will likely survive. The fatality rate for forced landings is roughly 10 percent, more than 1,600 times greater than precautionary landings. Ditchings have the worst rate, about 20 percent.

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For chute critics, the number won’t matter much anyway. There are a lot of GA planes that are much more survivable off field than the Cirrus’s. You could argue you don’t need a chute if you design the aircraft for a lower stall speed.

It’s a very different thing to off-airport forced land a Cub or a C172 than a Cirrus. You carry significantly less energy (speed in there squared), don’t have shopping cart wheels in many other planes, wheel fairings, etc. Many other planes still have authority over pitch and roll at much lower airspeed over the control surfaces, while Cirrus gets very sluggish close to stall speed at landing. Try flying mains on/off with a Cirrus and a Diamond over a long strip with final approach power, it becomes clear immediately how much better the Diamond handles. In addition, the side stick gives you much less arm for the control forces than a regular stick or wheel.

In short, in many other planes, you don’t need a chute to survive an off airport landing. In the Cirrus, you are better off having one, or you are in the hands of fate, as Brian said. The upside is higher cruise speeds, stability in turbulence, etc. Nothing comes for free.

I would reach out to Tom Turner at the American Bonanza Society. They don’t have the options we do and teach accordingly and I’ll bet he has some historical data regarding their fleet.

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I remember hearing this in the past. Is this still true?

Cirrus says there has never been a fatality in which a CAPS deployment was attempted within the normal envelope.