Alraigo incident

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Alraigo incident
Sea Harrier ZA176, the aircraft involved in the emergency landing, preserved at Newark Air Museum
Date6 June 1983 (1983-06-06)
SummaryEmergency vertical landing on a container ship due to lack of fuel
SiteAlraigo in the Atlantic Ocean off Portugal
Aircraft typeBAe Sea Harrier FRS.1
OperatorFleet Air Arm (Royal Navy)
Flight originHMS Illustrious (R06)
DestinationHMS Illustrious (R06)

The Alraigo incident occurred on 6 June 1983, when a lost British Royal Navy Sea Harrier fighter aircraft landed on the deck of a Spanish container ship.[1][2] Its pilot, Sub-Lieutenant Ian Watson, was a junior Royal Navy pilot undertaking his first NATO exercise from HMS Illustrious (R06), which was operating off the coast of Portugal. Watson was launched in a pair of aircraft tasked with locating a French aircraft carrier under combat conditions including radio silence and radar switched off. After completing the search, Watson attempted to return to the Illustrious, but was unable to locate it. Running low on fuel, and with his radio having stopped working, Watson headed towards a nearby shipping lane, where he made visual contact with the container ship Alraigo.[3]

He initially planned to eject in sight of the vessel, but noticed that its cargo provided a flat landing surface. The ship was carrying a base plate for the Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope, which was being constructed in the Canary Islands.[4][5] He decided to land on the ship.

Four days later, the Alraigo arrived at Santa Cruz de Tenerife with the Sea Harrier still perched on its container. The event received widespread media coverage. The aircraft was salvageable, and the ship's crew and owners were awarded £570,000 compensation.[1]

A subsequent Board of Inquiry found that Watson had completed only 75% of his training before he had been sent to sea. The board blamed Watson's inexperience, and criticised his commanders for the radio problems with his plane. Watson was reprimanded for displaying substandard airmanship and reassigned to a desk job.[6][7] He eventually returned to flight duties and accrued nearly 3,000 hours of flying time before resigning his commission in 1996.[1] Sea Harrier ZA176 was converted to the FA2 variant in 1992 and retired from service 20 September 2003.[3] The aircraft is now on display at Newark Air Museum in Nottinghamshire, England in its FA2 configuration.[3][4]


  1. ^ a b c Wright, Tim (November 2008). "Oldies and Oddities: The Alraigo Incident". Air & Space/Smithsonian. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  2. ^ Day, Peter (1 June 2007). "Why 'lost' jet pilot took ride on container ship". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  3. ^ a b c "The Day A Royal Navy Pilot Landed On A Spanish Container Ship". Forces TV. 6 May 2016. Archived from the original on 9 June 2016. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  4. ^ a b Heeley, Howard (2006). "Modern-day veteran". Air-Scene UK. Archived from the original on 13 July 2006. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  5. ^ "Chronology of the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes". Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes. Retrieved 25 June 2022.
  6. ^ Day, Peter (1 June 2007). "Why 'lost' jet pilot took ride on container ship". Archived from the original on 11 October 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2023.
  7. ^ Leone, Dario (1 March 2019). "That time a Royal Navy Sea Harrier did an emergency landing on a Spanish Cargo ship: the Alraigo Incident". The Aviation Geek Club. Retrieved 26 February 2023.