West Caribbean Airways Flight 708
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HK-4374X, the aircraft involved in the accident, push-backing from a gate at Jose Maria Cordova Airport in July 2005.
|Date||16 August 2005|
|Summary||Deep stall due to pilot error, wind updraft|
Machiques, Venezuela |
|Aircraft type||McDonnell Douglas MD-82|
|Operator||West Caribbean Airways (chartered by the Globe Trotters de Rivière Salée travel agency)|
|Flight origin||Tocumen International Airport, Panama|
|Destination||Martinique Aimé Césaire Int'l Airport, Martinique|
West Caribbean Airways Flight 708 was a West Caribbean Airways charter flight which crashed in a mountainous region in northwest Venezuela in the early hours of Tuesday, 16 August 2005, killing all 160 passengers and crew on board. 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, France. While flying at 33,000 ft, the aircraft's speed gradually decreased until it entered an aerodynamic stall. The crew, probably under the mistaken belief that the aircraft had suffered a double engine flame-out, did not take the necessary actions to recover from the stall. The confusion and lack of action resulted in the crash. 
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.
The 160-person death toll made the accident the deadliest of 2005. It 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.
Medellín-based West Caribbean Airways started as a charter service in 1998. It specialized in flights to San Andrés in the Caribbean, parts of the Colombian mainland and Central America. A few months before the accident, the airline had been fined $46,000 for lack of pilot training and failure to log required flight data.
The aircraft involved in the incident was delivered to Continental Airlines on November 4, 1986 as N72824, which operated it until approximately 2001. At this point the airframe was put into storage in the California desert for four years, and eventually purchased by MK Aviation, a United States-based company. On January 10, 2005, the aircraft was transferred to West Caribbean Airways, and registered as HK-4374X, leased to WCA by MK Aviation.
The jet's tail cone fell off in early July 2005 and was replaced.
Flight 708 took off from Tocumen International Airport at 00:58 local time (05:58 UTC). It climbed initially to flight level (FL) 310, and subsequently to FL 330. The aircraft reached FL 330 (nominally 33,000 ft) at 06:44. Five minutes later, the crew turned the aircraft's anti-icing systems back on (having turned them off during the final part of the climb). 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, this only worsened the situation because even the decreased speed only deepened the stall further. The aircraft dropped 9,000 feet in just 30 seconds. After a 100 feet per minute dive with engines in a flight idle or near flight idle condition and overspeeding fast, the aircraft crashed belly-first and exploded at 07:01 UTC. The crash site was in a field on a cattle ranch near Machiques, in the western Zulia State, Venezuela (about 30 kilometres from the Colombian border).
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.
The Comité de Investigación de Accidentes Aéreos (CIAA, Aircraft Accidents Research Committee) of Venezuela led the investigation on the causes of the accident. French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) was assigned the main responsibility of the investigation analysis for Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) with United States' National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also taking part in recovery of FDR data. 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 CIAA, which had been renamed to the Junta Investigadora de Accidentes de Aviación Civil (JIAAC, Civil Aviation Accidents Investigation Board), 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.
Media and popular culture
The hourlong Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic TV series Mayday featured the crash and investigation in a Season 11 episode titled The Plane That Flew Too High or Fatal Climb in the UK.
In 2010, the documentary Panamá-Fort-de-France : autopsie d'un crash, [Panamá-Fort-de-France: autopsy of a crash] (in French) by Stéphane Gabet and Luc David, traces the event, as well as the investigation. · 
- On n'oublie pas [Don't Forget], (Tribute to the 152 Martinique victims), 2014, written by Serge Bilé, sung by several artists and personalities including Jocelyne Beroard, Alpha Blondy, Harry Roselmack and Admiral T, to remember this event and to help the AVCA, the association of the victims of the air disaster, to raise funds. 
- Northwest Airlines Flight 255, the MD-82's previous deadliest aviation disaster, which occurred exactly 18 years previously.
- Southern Airways Flight 242, another MD-80/DC-9 crash involving heavy weather and engine problems.
- Viasa Flight 742, Venezuela's previous deadliest aviation disaster.
- JIAAC final report, section 3.3, pages 123–124
- Ellsworth, Brian; Forero, Juan (17 August 2005). "160 Die in Crash of Airliner in Venezuela – New York Times". The New York Times.
- "Caribbean Net News: Victims' families file suit against West Caribbean Airways over 2005 crash". www.caribbeannewsnow.com. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
- "HK-4374X West Caribbean Airways McDonnell Douglas MD-82".
- JIAAC final report, section 1.5 "Personnel information", pages 11–13
- JIAAC final report, section 1.13 "Medical information and pathology", page 72
- JIAAC final report, section 1.1 "History of the flight", page 2
- JIAAC final report, section 1.1 "History of the flight", pages 2–4
- JIAAC final report, section 1.1 "History of the flight", page 9
- "Report: West Caribbean MD82 at Machiquez on Aug 16th 2005, did not recover from high altitude stall – Aviation Herald".
- "The Plane That Flew Too High". Mayday. Season 11. 2011. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
- "Panama - Fort-de-France : autopsie d'un crash" [Panamá-Fort-de-France: autopsy of a crash] (in French). Le Monde.
- "Panama - Fort-de-France : autopsie d'un crash" [Panamá-Fort-de-France: autopsy of a crash] (in French). Film Documentaire.
- "Crash du 16 août : « On n'oublie pas »" [Crash of August 16: "We don't forget"] (in French). Martinique France-Antilles.
|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
- (in 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. 21 August 2006. (in Spanish) (Archive)
- (in Spanish) "MTC entregó informe final sobre accidente aéreo en Machiques de 2005." Ministry of Transport and Communications. Monday 16 August 2010.
- (in Spanish) Profile of the crew
- "VENEZUELA RELEASES FACTUAL INFORMATION ON AUGUST MD-82 CRASH INVESTIGATION." (Archive) National Transportation Safety Board. 22 November 2005.