West Caribbean Airways Flight 708
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Crash location and intended route.
|Date||August 16, 2005|
|Summary||Deep stall due to pilot error|
|Aircraft type||McDonnell Douglas MD-82|
|Operator||West Caribbean Airways (chartered by the Globe Trotters de Rivière Salee travel agency)|
|Flight origin||Tocumen International Airport|
|Destination||Martinique Aimé Césaire Int'l Airport|
West Caribbean Airways Flight 708 was a West Caribbean Airways charter flight which crashed in a mountainous region in northwest Venezuela on the morning of Tuesday, August 16, 2005, killing all 152 passengers and eight crew. The plane, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, registration HK-4374X, was en route from Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City, Panama to Martinique Aimé Césaire International Airport (FDF) in Fort-de-France, Martinique. The crash is the deadliest air disaster in the history of Venezuela, the deadliest involving a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, and the third-deadliest involving a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 in general after Inex-Adria Aviopromet Flight 1308 and Dana Air Flight 992.
The pilots of Flight 708 reported trouble with one engine while discussing icing and later the other engine as well. They attempted to divert the plane to Maracaibo for an emergency landing. After a 7,000 feet per minute dive with engines in a flight idle or near flight idle condition, the plane crashed and burst into flames at about 03:45 local time (07:45 UTC) into a field on a cattle ranch near Machiques, in the western Zulia State, Venezuela (about 30 kilometres from the Colombian border).
Nearly all the passengers were French citizens from Martinique, with the exception of one Italian, acting as the tour operator. The crew was Colombian. The flight was chartered by the Globe Trotters de Rivière Salée travel agency in Martinique. Most of the passengers were tourists returning from a week's vacation in Panama.
in the Caribbean, parts of the Colombian mainland and Central America. According to the director of Colombia's Civil Aeronautics Board, Col. Carlos Montealegre, the company had been fined many times for violations and several of its airplanes had been grounded for inadequate maintenance. One $45,000 penalty cited pilots and other crew flying too many hours, lack of training and failure to log required flight data.
The aircraft involved in the incident was delivered to Continental Airlines on 4 November 1986 which operated it until 10 January 2005. At that time it was transferred to West Caribbean Airways, registered as HK-4374X. The jet's tail cone fell off in early July 2005 and was replaced.
On Flight 708, the captain of HK-4374X was 40-year-old Omar Ospina, and the first officer was 21-year-old David Mũnoz. The captain was an experienced pilot with almost 6,000 total flight hours, while the young first officer had just 862 hours.
All times are UTC. (For local time in Panama and Colombia, subtract 5 hours; for Venezuela subtract 4:30 hours; for Martinique, subtract 4.)
- 06:00 Flight 708 Departs from Panama en route to Martinique.
- 06:51 Crew reports trouble in one engine.
- 06:58 Crew requests and receives permission to descend from 31,000 feet to 14,000 feet.
- 06:59 Crew sends distress call: both engines malfunctioning, aircraft uncontrollable.
- 07:00 Plane crashes near Machiques, Venezuela.
Aftermath and investigation
The 160-person death toll made the accident the deadliest of 2005 and, jointly with China Northwest Airlines Flight 2303, the 50th deadliest crash of all time. West Caribbean Airways Flight 708 is the eleventh crash of an MD-80 with fatalities since the aircraft was brought into service in 1980.
The Comité de Investigación de Accidentes Aéreos (CIAA, Aircraft Accidents Research Committee) of Venezuela led the investigation on the causes of the accident. United States' National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) also took part. On 22 November 2005, the CIAA released a report suggesting that a buildup of ice inside each engine's PT2 probe was responsible for the accident. Analysis of the cockpit voice recorder showed that the crew discussed weather conditions, including icing, and continually requested and performed descents which is the usual response to a low power or low airspeed situation.
Analysis of the debris showed that both engines exhibited indications of high-speed compressor rotation at the time of impact, which enabled investigators to conclude that the engines had not been previously damaged, and were functioning at the time of impact. Ground scars showed that the aircraft impacted with its nose up.
The aircraft had taken off slightly overloaded. In fact, two flight attendants had to disembark, under the instructions of the captain. This overloaded condition would allow the aircraft to fly at a top altitude of only 33,000 feet (10,000 m) without stalling. Unfortunately, due to the poor weather the flight encountered on its way, the crew switched on the engine anti-ice system. The system uses power from the engines, thus reducing their maximum performance. With the anti-ice system on, the highest altitude at which the overloaded aircraft could fly - without stalling - was reduced to 31,900 feet (9,700 m). The captain noticed the reduction in engine power, but he did not realize the source of the problem. Therefore, he started a rapid descent as a precaution. At that time, the airspeed was already near stall speed, and the autopilot had kept a nose-up attitude to maintain a constant height. When the airliner was pummeled by a sudden updraft, it finally entered a stall condition and the crew mishandled it. Although the cockpit voice recorder picked up the first officer correctly diagnosing the situation as a stall and attempting twice to communicate this to the captain, the captain was likely confused by the unusual behaviour of the engines, due to the anti-ice system and probably the air flow disruption caused by the updraft. The captain thought he was struggling with an engine flameout, which he told the first officer to communicate to the ground controller, and did not recognise the deep stall situation; he then mishandled the stall by maintaining nose-up attitude, which further decreased speed and deepened the stall until the plane eventually crashed.
The CIAA, which had been renamed to the Junta Investigadora de Accidentes de Aviación Civil (JIAAC), released their final report into the accident and found the probable underlying causes of the crash to be the result of pilot error. Underscoring the finding listing pilot error as a cause, the JIAAC noted a lack of both situational awareness and crew resource management which would have better enabled the crew to properly respond to the stall and the severity of the emergency. The report stressed that the crew failed to operate the aircraft within its normal parameters, which resulted in a stall that was not properly recovered from due to poor decision-making and poor communication between the pilots. In addition, the poor financial position of West Caribbean Airways came under criticism; the airplane and crew involved in the accident flight were almost refused takeoff at their previous stop due to non-payment of catering and food service fees, the crew had not received regular paychecks in several months, and the captain had reportedly been forced to moonlight as a bartender to provide income for his family.
The accident was the topic of a one-hour episode of the TV series Mayday (also known as Air Crash Investigation in the UK, Australia and Asia and Air Emergency or Air Disasters in the United States), "The Plane That Flew Too High".
- Viasa Flight 742, Venezuela's previous deadliest air disaster.
- Northwest Airlines Flight 255, another MD-82 that crashed in 1987, also on August 16.
- Southern Airways Flight 242, another MD-80/DC-9 crash involving heavy weather and engine problems.
- Crew resource management
- Pulkovo Aviation Enterprise Flight 612
- Ellsworth, Brian; Forero, Juan (17 August 2005). "160 Die in Crash of Airliner in Venezuela — New York Times". The New York Times.
- "HK-4374X West Caribbean Airways McDonnell Douglas MD-82".
- "Report: West Caribbean MD82 at Machiquez on Aug 16th 2005, did not recover from high altitude stall - Aviation Herald".
|Wikinews has related news: Plane carrying 160 crashes in Venezuela|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to West Caribbean Airways Flight 708.|
|Photograph of aircraft at Airliners.net|
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- Junta Investigadora de Accidentes de Aviación Civil
- Main text of the final Report (Archive) - Unofficial English translation hosted at SKYbrary - Annexes 3, 6, and 7 of the full report are in English, and are in the original Spanish report and the French translated report by the BEA
- (Spanish) Final Report - (Archive, Alt, Archive) - Official version
- Factual report - National Transportation Safety Board
- Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile:
- "Junta liderada por Minfra sigue el caso INVESTIGACION DEL SINIESTRO AEREO DE WEST CARIBBEAN TIENE 75% DE AVANCE." Ministry of Infrastructure of Venezuela. August 21, 2006. (Spanish) (Archive)
- (Spanish) "MTC entregó informe final sobre accidente aéreo en Machiques de 2005." Ministry of Transport and Communications. Monday August 16, 2010.
- (Spanish) Profile of the crew
- "VENEZUELA RELEASES FACTUAL INFORMATION ON AUGUST MD-82 CRASH INVESTIGATION." (Archive) National Transportation Safety Board. November 22, 2005.