Latest Revelations In Crash Of

West Caribbean MD-82 Flight 708 (16 Aug 05)

The newest findings in this crash are:

1. The plane was moderately overweight, taking off from Panama City for Martinique.

2. The pilots chose to fly the most direct route, without regards to thunderstorms or other important convective activity. They did this apparently to make up for a delay. They did not deviate around any storm.

3. They climbed rapidly (zoom-climbed) from 31,000 ft to 33,000 ft, an altitude they could not keep due to their weight. Additionally, the rapid climb made the autothrottle power back the engines too much. The pilots did not realize this. The autopilot, however, started to raise the nose to compensate. After six mins the autopilot disconnected and two minutes later, the plane stalled. The crew apparently never recognized the stall and never recognized the low power from the engines.

Souce: TV5Monde
 
"The crew took the opposite action to recover from an aircraft stall than action that is taught to every beginner pilot. That suggests that the crew did not recognize that the plane was, in effect, stalling."

According to evidence found in the wreckage, the crew pulled the control yoke back toward their chests as they went down. This would raise the nose and lower speed, preventing air from flowing over the wing properly.... or any possibility of recovery from the stall."

"The plane was descending at an average of almost 10,000 feet a minute"

"Two minutes and 46 seconds before impact, a loud stall warning sounded, however the FDR indicated that the crew kept pulling the control yoke backward, reaching a maximum 12 degree nose-up position and holding the yoke there all the way into the ground. "

Source TV5 Amerique Latine
 

The MD-80 series can get into coffin corner quite easily when heavy, but this has been well known for years and there have been previous incidents. MD-80s will usually stick down at FL290-FL310 until they have burned off quite a bit of fuel (depending on the payload of course). The aircraft being overweight would only worsened the problem (with the climb due to weather conditions), even so it may have been recoverable if the pilots had reacted properly.

Unfortunately, from this report this accident looks to have been entirely preventable despite the mitigating factors (weather and overloading). Recognition of and recovery from stalls is probably the most important part of basic pilot training.
 
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, was in route from Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City, Panama to Fort de France, Martinique (FDF). The pilots reported trouble with one engine, and later the other engine as well. They diverted the plane to Maracaibo for an emergency landing. After a 7,000 feet per minute dive with both engines in flames, the plane crashed at about 03:45 local time (07:45 UTC) into a field of La Cucharita cattle ranch near Machiques, in the western state of Zulia, Venezuela (about 30 kilometres from the Colombian border).

Nearly all the passengers were French citizens from Martinique, but a few were Panamanian and Colombian. 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.

Timeline

All times are UTC. (For local time in Panama, subtract 5 hours; for Venezuela
and Martinique, subtract 4.)

  • 06:00 Departs from Panama.
  • 06:51 Reports trouble in one engine.
  • 06:58 Requests and receives permission to descend from 31,000 feet to 14,000 feet.
  • 07:02 Sends distress call: both engines malfunctioning, aircraft uncontrollable.
  • 07:45 Crashes in flames.
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Airline

See main article West Caribbean Airways

Medellín-based West Caribbean Airways started as a charter service in 1998. It specializes in flights to San Andrés 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.[1] One $45,000 penalty cited pilots and other crew flying too many hours, lack of training and failure to log required flight data. The company is said to be facing financial difficulties and is reportedly up for sale.[2]

West Caribbean Airways lost a Let L-410 turboprop on 26 March 2005 on takeoff from Providencia Island in an accident that killed 8 people and injured 6.

Aside from the downed MD-82, the airline's fleet consists of two McDonnell Douglas MD-81s, three Aérospatiale ATR 42s, and six L-410s.

Background

The aircraft involved in the incident was delivered to Continental Airlines on November 4, 1986 which operated it until January 10, 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.

The death toll makes this accident the deadliest of 2005, and the 50th deadliest crash of all time. It followed the crash of Helios Airways Flight 522 on August 14 in Greece, which killed 121 people. The only other plane crashes in 2005 to kill over 100 people were that of Kam Air Flight 904 on February 3 in Afghanistan (104 deaths), and Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 on December 10 in Nigeria (109 deaths). West Caribbean Airways Flight 708 is the 11th crash of an MD-80 since the aircraft was brought into service in 1980. It is the deadliest air disaster in the history of Venezuela.

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Investigation

The Comite de Investigación de Accidentes Aéreos (CIAA, Aircraft Accidents Research Committee) of Venezuela led the investigation on the causes of the accident. United States' NTSB and French BEA also took part. On November the 22nd, 2005, the CIAA released a factual report suggesting that a buildup of ice on the wings was responsible for the accident.Analysis of the Cockpit voice recorder showed that the crew discussed weather conditions, including icing, and continuously requested and performed descents in hopes of moving to zones of better weather conditions. 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 were not previously damaged, and were functioning at the time of impact. Ground scars showed that the aircraft impacted with its nose up, which is consistent with a buildup of ice on the wings and the body.