The Alraigo Incident: the Day a Royal Navy Sea Harrier did an emergency landing on a Spanish Cargo ship

The Alraigo Incident: the Day a Royal Navy Sea Harrier did an emergency landing on a Spanish Cargo ship

By Dario Leone
Jun 8 2024
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The Sea Harrier

The British Aerospace Sea Harrier is a naval short take-off and vertical landing/vertical take-off and landing jet fighter, reconnaissance and attack aircraft. It is the second member of the Harrier family developed. It first entered service with the Royal Navy in April 1980 as the Sea Harrier FRS1 and became informally known as the “Shar”. Unusual in an era in which most naval and land-based air superiority fighters were large and supersonic, the principal role of the subsonic Sea Harrier was to provide air defence for Royal Navy task groups centred around the aircraft carriers.

The Sea Harrier served in the Falklands War and the Balkans conflicts; on all occasions it mainly operated from aircraft carriers positioned within the conflict zone.

Emergency landing on a Spanish Cargo ship

On Jun. 7, 1983 Royal Navy Sea Harrier ZA176 performed an emergency landing aboard Cargo Ship Alraigo. The news footage in this post features the recovery of Sea Harrier ZA176 and Sub-Lt Ian Watson after the Alraigo docked in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, June 1983.

Noteworthy when inexperienced Royal Navy pilot Ian “Soapy” Watson got lost flying a Sea Harrier jump jet and landed the £7 million aircraft on the deck of a container ship senior officers reprimanded him for incompetence.

But, as reported by The Telegraph, in 2007 emerged that behind the scenes they were laying the blame elsewhere to try to get out of a £570,000 compensation bill.

In fact a file released on May 31, 2007 at the National Archives describes how Sub-Lt Watson, 25, ”incurred the Commander in Chief of the Fleet’s Displeasure” for displaying an unsatisfactory standard of fundamental airmanship.

But the Ministry of Defence file shows that he had completed only 75 per cent of the recommended flying hours in training before being pressed into service and was allowed to take an aircraft with a known radio defect.

An unnamed senior officer commented: ”I am speechless, as was Watson.” Sub-Lt Watson had taken off from the carrier HMS Illustrious off the Spanish coast on Jun. 7, 1983 to conduct a NATO search exercise.

The crew of the 2,300-ton Spanish container ship Alraigo won a salvage claim and shared £340,000, with the remaining £230,000 going to the owners of the vessel.


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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