SA de Transport Aérien Flight 730
HB-ICK taking off from Geneva, 2 years earlier
|Date||December 18, 1977|
|Aircraft type||Sud Aviation SE-210 Caravelle 10R|
|Operator||SA de Transport Aérien (SATA)|
The flight crew consisted of two captains. The pilot in command had never previously landed at Funchal and was being trained to operate from the notoriously difficult airport by the other, more experienced captain, who was acting as co-pilot. The training was intended to take place during daytime, but due to a delay the aircraft reached its destination after dark.
The non-scheduled flight departed from Zurich, making its first stop at Geneva Cointrin International Airport at 14:30 UTC. While at Geneva, the aircraft's departure to Funchal was delayed due to a hydraulic pump failure, and it finally took off at 16:26.
At 19:38, the crew contacted Madeira control tower, reporting Rose Point at 33,000 feet (10,000 m), and were cleared to descend to 5,000 ft (1,500 m). At 19:55, the crew reported overflying Porto Santo island at 8,500 ft (2,600 m) and were instructed to continue their descent to 5000 ft and then to contact Funchal approach control.
At 19:57, Funchal cleared the crew to descend to 3,500 ft (1,100 m) and informed them that the QNH was 1014.0 mb. Apparently, during the landing checklist, the crew forgot to set the altimeter to that value, and proceeded to the final 180° turn to the downwind leg well below the correct altitude, losing sight of the runway lights. Relying only on instruments, the pilot descended below the 720 ft (220 m) required during circling and reached the base leg below 200 ft (61 m), impacting the sea soon after that. At the time of impact, the altimeter was reading 500 ft (150 m). The aircraft had its landing gear down and the flaps were extended at 20 degrees.
Thirty-five passengers and one hostess lost their lives, many becoming trapped inside the sinking fuselage. The remaining passengers and crew, including both pilots, were rescued by local fisherman and rescue teams, or swam to the nearby shore.
The cause of the accident was attributed to pilot error, due to lack of coordination between the pilots, and to sensorial illusion. It was the second fatal air crash in a month at Funchal. On November 19, TAP Portugal Flight 425 had crashed at the airport, killing 131 people.
In October 2011 the wreckage of the Caravelle was found by two Portuguese divers at a depth of 33 m (108 ft). The aircraft had reportedly broken into two sections.
- "Portuguese scuba divers find Swiss plane wreck". BBC News (BBC). 25 Oct 2011. Retrieved 23 Dec 2011.
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- Accident report - GPIAA (Portuguese)
- Le site des pionniers de l’aéronautique à Genève