Alraigo incident

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Alraigo incident
Two Royal Navy British Aerospace Sea Harrier FRS.1s, similar to the incident aircraft, from 800 Naval Air Squadron, assigned to the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (R06), approach the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69).
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 6th 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, 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 a telescope being delivered to the La Palma Observatory in the Canary Islands.[4]

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 per cent 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 and reassigned to a desk job. He eventually returned to flight duties and accrued nearly 3,000 hours of flying time before resigning his commission in 1996. Sea Harrier ZA176 was converted to the FA2 variant in 1992 and retired from service 20 September 2003. The aircraft is now on display at Newark Air Museum in Nottinghamshire England in its FA2 configuration.[4]


  1. ^ a b WRIGHT, TIM. "Oldies and Oddities: The Alraigo Incident". Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  2. ^ Day, Peter (30 January 2015). "Why 'lost' jet pilot took ride on container ship". Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 June 2016. Retrieved 7 June 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ a b Heeley, Howard. "Modern-day veteran". Archived from the original on 6 August 2015. Retrieved 30 January 2015.