Stray Harrier makes forced landing on container ship

Stray Harrier makes forced landing on container ship

Jet pilot Ian Watson was actually resigned to ejecting when he ran out of fuel in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately, however, he discovered a passing container ship at the last minute, which could just about be suitable as a landing pad.


Despite his incomplete training, the 25-year-old lieutenant was sent on June 6, 1983 to a NATO exercise off the Portuguese coast. The aim was to use the VTOL to spot a French aircraft carrier under combat conditions. This meant total radio silence with the radar turned off to provide the lowest possible electromagnetic profile for the "enemy".

Watson was able to carry out the reconnaissance successfully, but suddenly the radio and radar could no longer be switched on for the return flight. The British pilot searched for his home aircraft carrier for hours without success. When the fuel needle finally dropped to zero, he saw only one option: With the last bit of fuel, he headed for a known sea route where the chance of encountering any ship was still highest. If he crashed due to lack of fuel, at least he could be rescued quickly. But just as his thoughts were about to eject and crash the $7 million jet into the water, he spotted a Spanish container ship on the horizon.

The ship's crew was amazed when suddenly a Harrier of the Royal Navy hovered over them, only to make a relatively good landing at full speed. Four days later, the ship reached its port of destination in the Canary Islands, still with the jet on board. The British Navy finally paid a reward of £570,000 and indeed the Harrier was able to be made airworthy again.

Watson was first banished behind a desk as punishment, but was later allowed to fly again and served in the Navy for another 13 years. The original Harrier can now be admired in the Newark Air Museum in England.
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1 comment

  • Andreas david

    Wenn man sich überlegt, was heute für alte warbirds, die während des Krieges abgestürzt sind, wieder flugtauglich gemacht werden, so wie alte me 109er, spitfires, Mustangs o.ä., dann sieht der harrier, ist übrigens ein sehr harrier, noch richtig fit aus. Tolle story 👍

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