Santa Bárbara Airlines Flight 518

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Santa Bárbara Airlines Flight 518
Santa Barbara Airlines ATR ATR-42-320 Callens-1.jpg
A Santa Bárbara Airlines ATR 42-300 similar to the one involved.
Date 21 February 2008
Summary Pilot error caused by disorientation, failure to use checklist, leading to Controlled flight into terrain
Site Venezuela
8°39′33″N 71°14′17″W / 8.65917°N 71.23806°W / 8.65917; -71.23806Coordinates: 8°39′33″N 71°14′17″W / 8.65917°N 71.23806°W / 8.65917; -71.23806
Aircraft type ATR 42-300
Operator Santa Bárbara Airlines
Registration YV1449
Flight origin Alberto Carnevalli Airport, Mérida, Venezuela
Destination Simón Bolívar International Airport, Caracas, Venezuela
Passengers 43
Crew 3
Fatalities 46 (all)
Survivors 0

Santa Bárbara Airlines Flight 518 was an ATR 42–300 twin-turboprop aircraft, registration YV1449, operating as a scheduled domestic flight from Mérida, Venezuela to Caracas that crashed into the side of a mountain on 21 February 2008, shortly after takeoff.[1][2] There were 43 passengers on board, with a crew consisting of two pilots and a flight attendant.[3] The wreckage was discovered a day later with no survivors.[4] It had the highest death toll of any aviation accident involving an ATR 42 until Trigana Air Service Flight 267 crashed in Papua, Indonesia, on 16 August 2015 with 54 deaths.

Flight history[edit]

Mérida, a university and tourist town located high in the Andes mountains, is surrounded by higher terrain with night flights prohibited at the nearby Alberto Carnevalli Airport. On 21 February 2008, Flight 518 was the last scheduled flight out of the airport, departing at about 17:00 local time. On the flight deck was Captain Aldino Garanito Gomez (36), a senior pilot for the airline and flight instructor with more than 5,000 flight hours logged, and First Officer Denis Ferreira Quintal (29). Shortly after take-off, the ATR 42–300 twin-turboprop slammed into a sheer 13,000-foot (4,000 m) rock wall called "Indian Face" (Spanish: La Cara del Indio). No distress calls were received from the aircraft prior to impact.[5][6]

Crash site[edit]

Santa Bárbara Airlines Flight 518 is located in Venezuela
Santa Bárbara Airlines Flight 518
Accident location shown within Venezuela

Antonio Rivero, national director of civil defense, said rescuers had identified the site of the crash in the south-western state of Mérida. Unión Radio cited civil defense regional chief, Gerardo Rojas, as saying that rescue crews were racing to the poorly-accessible crash site in the Andes Mountains.[7] Mountain villagers reported hearing a tremendous noise they thought could be from a crash soon after the disappearance and loss of contact with Flight 518. According to local police, the wreckage of the aircraft was located at Páramo de Mucuchíes, in the sector of Collao del Cóndor, Páramo Piedra Blanca, near the Laguna de la Perlada. The search operation was conducted from the regional hub city of Barinas in western Venezuela.

Air-rescue services said that the twin-turboprop ATR 42 crashed 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the mountain city of Mérida after take-off. Searchers spotted the wreckage of the plane carrying 43 passengers and 3 crew members in the mountains of western Venezuela on Friday, 22 February. Fire-fighter Sgt. Jhonny Paz said officials believed there were no survivors and were sending a helicopter to the site of the accident after a refueling stop. "The impact was direct. The aircraft is practically pulverized," he told the Venezuelan television station Globovisión.[8] At the national civil aeronautical institute, General Ramón Vinas confirmed that, "by the type of impact, we presume that there are no survivors".[9]


As search-and-rescue activities were underway, local media published the passenger list of Sánta Barbara Airlines Flight 518.[10] Most of the victims were Venezuelan; three Colombians and an American also died in the crash.[11]

Among the passengers were an anti-Chávez political analyst, Italo Luongo,[4][12] and Alexander Quintero, the pro-Chávez mayor of Mucuchíes, a small town in the state of Mérida, Quintero's 11-year-old son, and two relatives of federal under-minister for civic security Tarek El Alssami.[9] Vivian Guarch, a 53-year-old United States citizen and executive for Stanford Financial Group Bank, died in the crash.[6]

Family members and friends of the victims created a website with information related to the crash and its victims.[13]

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
Venezuela 37 3 40
Colombia 5 0 5
United States 1 0 1
Total 43 3 46


The Cockpit Voice Recorder (black box) was successfully recovered from the wreckage. Preliminary information released on 28 July 2008, indicates the crew departed Mérida with inoperative navigation equipment and subsequently became disoriented in the mountainous terrain surrounding the airport, crashing into the side of a mountain[14] while trying to determine their location.[15] Subsequent investigation concluded that the pilots took off without conducting the mandatory pre-flight procedures and used an unauthorised departure route.

A report by LagAd Aviation determined that the cause of the accident was the omission or improper use of the checklists and procedures critical to the operation of the flight, causing the Attitude and Heading Reference System (AHRS) to not be initialized prior to the take-off roll. The pilots wanted to meet the schedule after experiencing some delays, including losing track of time while having coffee in the terminal, then finding that the passengers were already on board the plane. The time pressure was a factor that led the pilots to omit the use of the checklists and perform the pre-takeoff so fast that it was impossible to perform the necessary verification procedures to ensure safety. The second cause of the accident was the decision to take off when they had already become aware that the AHRS was inoperative, due to the overconfidence of the pilots. The pilots chose to begin their take off rather than wait an additional 30 seconds for the AHRS be synchronized. Flying without the AHRS meant that the pilots could not maintain the correct heading in the limited visibility of clouds on their ascent.[16]

Cockpit voice recording[edit]

The following is an English translation of the CVR transcript (original in Spanish):[15][17]

Television portrayal[edit]

The investigation was covered in "28 Seconds To Survive", a 2012 episode of Mayday, a Canadian documentary television series about air crashes. The documentary points out that the airport was deemed too dangerous for commercial flights, which were suspended. Commercial service resumed in 2014, after being suspended for five years.[18]


  1. ^ Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
  2. ^ "Jetliner reported missing in Venezuela". CNN. 22 February 2008. Retrieved 22 February 2008. 
  3. ^ "Plane Carrying 46 Missing in Venezuela". Associated Press via Google News. 21 February 2008. Archived from the original on 15 March 2008. Retrieved 21 February 2008. 
  4. ^ a b "'No survivors' in Venezuelan plane crash: officials". Agence France Presse (AFP). 22 February 2008. Archived from the original on 15 October 2008. Retrieved 22 February 2008. 
  5. ^ Rescuers find Venezuela plane crash black boxes, Reuters, 24 Feb 2008. Retrieved on 28 February 2008.
  6. ^ a b Venezuela begins recovering bodies from Andean plane crash, The Associated Press, 24 February 2008. Retrieved on 2008-02-28.
  7. ^ "Wreckage of Venezuelan airliner spotted". 22 February 2008. Retrieved 22 February 2008. 
  8. ^ "Plane Crash Site in Venezuela Found". Associated Press. 22 February 2008. Archived from the original on 25 February 2008. Retrieved 28 February 2008. 
  9. ^ a b Rueda, Jorge (22 February 2008). "Venezuela Plane Crash Kills 46". The Associated Press. Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2008. 
  10. ^ "Passenger Manifest of Santa Barbara Airlines Flight 508". 22 February 2008. Archived from the original on 25 February 2008. Retrieved 22 February 2008. 
  11. ^ "Venezuela crash data boxes found." BBC, 23 February 2008. Retrieved on 2008-02-28.
  12. ^ "Chavez followers get paramilitary training". USA Today. 16 March 2005. Retrieved 29 February 2008. 
  13. ^ "Vuelo 518". Retrieved 31 December 2016. 
  14. ^ Illustration of flight paths
  15. ^ a b Transcriben conversación de Caja Negra de vuelo de Mérida Archived 9 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine. ("Transcript of conversation of Merida flight's black box", in Spanish)
  16. ^ "Análisis del Accidente del Vuelo 518 de Santa Bárbara Airlines". Retrieved 31 December 2016. 
  17. ^ CVR audio (Archive)
  18. ^ Airport reopened

External links[edit]

External images
"ATR-42-300 YV1449" pictures from
"ATR-42-300 YV1449" pictures from