West Caribbean Airways Flight 708

West Caribbean Airways Flight 708 was a West Caribbean Airways charter flight that 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 (10,000 m), 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.[2]:123–124

West Caribbean Airways Flight 708
McDonnell Douglas MD-82 (HK-4374X).jpg
HK-4374X, the aircraft involved, photographed in July 2005
Date16 August 2005 (2005-08-16)
SummaryDeep stall due to pilot error and a lack of crew resource management and situation awareness[1]
SiteMachiques, Venezuela
9°39′59″N 72°36′40″W / 9.66639°N 72.61111°W / 9.66639; -72.61111Coordinates: 9°39′59″N 72°36′40″W / 9.66639°N 72.61111°W / 9.66639; -72.61111
Aircraft typeMcDonnell Douglas MD-82
OperatorWest Caribbean Airways (chartered by the Globe Trotters de Rivière Salée travel agency)
IATA flight No.YH708
ICAO flight No.WCW708
Call signWEST 708
Flight originTocumen International Airport, Panama
DestinationMartinique Aimé Césaire Int'l Airport, Martinique

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, the deadliest aviation disaster to occur in Venezuela, and the deadliest involving a McDonnell Douglas MD-82.[1][3][4][5]


The flight's intended route and the crash site's location

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.[6][7]

The aircraft involved in the incident was delivered to Continental Airlines on 4 November 1986 as N72824, which operated it until around 2001.[8] 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 10 January 2005, the aircraft was transferred to West Caribbean Airways, and registered as HK-4374X, leased to WCA by MK Aviation.[8][9]

The captain of flight 708 was 40-year-old Omar Ospina, and the first officer was 21-year-old David Muñoz. The captain had 5,942 hours of flight experience (including 1,128 hours on the MD-82), and the first officer 1,341 hours, with 862 of them on the MD-82.[2]:11–13,72


Flight 708 took off from Tocumen International Airport at 00:58 local time (05:58 UTC).[2]:2 It climbed initially to flight level (FL) 310, and subsequently to FL 330. The aircraft reached FL 330 (nominally 33,000 feet [10,000 m]) 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).[2]:2–4 The system uses bleed air from the engines, and this reduces the thrust they can produce. With the anti-ice system on, the highest altitude at which the aircraft could maintain level flight was reduced to 31,900 feet (9,700 m). The aircraft was being flown too high for its weight and the icing conditions it faced.[10][citation needed]

The captain noticed the reduction in engine output, but he did not realize the source of the problem, so he started a rapid descent as a precaution. At that time, the airspeed was already near stall speed, and the autopilot had already compensated with a nose-up attitude (angle of attack, or AOA) of 5.8° in an effort to maintain a constant height. West Caribbean, like all owners of the MD-82, had received an operation bulletin from the planes' manufacturer three years earlier, warning that the autopilot could try to compensate for inadequate speed, even allowing the speed to continue to drop towards a stall situation, without sending a warning or disconnecting; the bulletin advised pilots to simply monitor airspeed during autopilot level flight, but West Caribbean had not shared this bulletin with its pilots.[10] Already approaching a stall condition, the airliner was pummeled by sudden turbulence, reducing the airflow into the intakes of the engines, which reduced thrust even more. The flow of air over the wing of the aircraft became stalled. 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 behavior of the engines, due to the anti-ice system and probably the airflow disruption caused by turbulence. 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 recognize the stall situation; he then mishandled the stall by increasing the nose-up attitude to an AOA of 10.6°, which compounded the drop in airflow to the engines and further exacerbated the stall.[11] In less than three minutes, the aircraft plunged from over 33,000 feet, reaching a maximum rate of descent of over 300 ft/s (205 mph; 329 km/h), crashing belly-first and exploding at 07:01 UTC.[2]:9[10] The crash site was in a field on a cattle ranch near Machiques, in the western Zulia State, Venezuela (about 30 kilometres [19 mi; 16 nmi] from the Colombian border).[12][citation needed]


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 into the causes of the accident. The French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile was assigned the main responsibility for investigative analysis of the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), with the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also taking part in recovery of FDR data. On 22 November 2005, the CIAA released an initial report (significantly changed by the time of the final report) suggesting that a buildup of ice inside each engine's PT2 probe was partly responsible for the accident. Analysis of the CVR 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 were rotating at normal speed 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 in a nose-high attitude.

The CIAA, which by then had been renamed 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.[11][13] Underscoring the finding listing pilot error as a cause, the JIAAC noted a lack of both situational awareness and crew resource management (CRM), 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. This resulted in the crew failing to recover from the stall due to poor decision-making and poor communication between the pilots. In addition, West Caribbean Airways came under criticism: West Caribbean failed to provide its pilots with the operation bulletin from McDonnell Douglas, specifically addressing the autopilot issue; failed to emphasize CRM in ongoing pilot training; created stress for its pilots by not providing regular paychecks for a period of nearly six months leading up to the accident; and further created stress for the accident crew when the airplane was delayed and almost refused takeoff at their previous stop due to West Caribbean's non-payment of catering and food service fees.[10][14]


As a result of the crash, West Caribbean Airways was grounded by the CAEAC just one day after the crash occurred.[15][16] The airline subsequently went bankrupt in October 2005.

Media and popular cultureEdit


The hourlong Discovery Channel Canada TV series Mayday (other titles in other countries) featured the crash and investigation in a season-11 episode titled "The Plane That Flew Too High".[10] The episode title references the fact that the cruising altitude of 33,000 feet was too high for the aircraft's weight in the weather conditions it faced.

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.[17][18]

A short film, Crossing Away, produced for the 10th anniversary of the Martinique-Panama plane crash, was not released until 2017.

In musicEdit

  • "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.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident McDonnell Douglas DC-9-82 (MD-82) HK-4374X Machiques". aviation-safety.net. Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Final report" (PDF) (in Spanish). Junta Investigadora de Accidentes de Aviación Civil. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  3. ^ Ranter, Harro. "2005". aviation-safety.net. Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  4. ^ Ranter, Harro. "Venezuela air safety profile". aviation-safety.net. Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  5. ^ Ranter, Harro. "McDonnell Douglas MD-80". aviation-safety.net. Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  6. ^ Ellsworth, Brian; Forero, Juan (17 August 2005). "160 Die in Crash of Airliner in Venezuela". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  7. ^ "Venezuela plane crash kills 160". BBC News. 16 August 2005. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  8. ^ a b "Caribbean Net News: Victims' families file suit against West Caribbean Airways over 2005 crash". www.caribbeannewsnow.com. Archived from the original on 20 April 2016. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
  9. ^ "HK-4374X West Caribbean Airways McDonnell Douglas MD-82". planespotters.net. Archived from the original on 8 October 2012. Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  10. ^ a b c d e "The Plane That Flew Too High". Mayday. Season 11. Episode 2. Cineflix. 19 August 2011. Discovery Channel Canada. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  11. ^ a b Hradecky, Simon (5 September 2010). "Report: West Caribbean MD82 at Machiquez on Aug 16th 2005, did not recover from high altitude stall". The Aviation Herald. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  12. ^ "LOCALIZADO SINIESTRADO EL HK- 4374X" [WAS LOCATED THE HK- 4374X]. rescate.com (in Spanish). Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  13. ^ "MTC entregó informe final sobre accidente aéreo en Machiques de 2005" [MTC delivered final report on air accident in Machiques of 2005] (in Spanish). Ministry of Transport and Communications. Archived from the original on 23 March 2012. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  14. ^ "Junta liderada por Minfra sigue el caso INVESTIGACION DEL SINIESTRO AEREO DE WEST CARIBBEAN TIENE 75% DE AVANCE" [Board led by Minfra follows the case WEST CARIBBEAN AIR INSURANCE INVESTIGATION HAS 75% OF ADVANCE] (PDF) (in Spanish). Ministry of Infrastructure of Venezuela. 21 August 2006. Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 March 2012. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  15. ^ "Airline's flights suspended after Venezuela crash". The Guardian. Staff and agencies. 18 August 2005. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  16. ^ "19 Aug 2005, Page 9 - The Daily Journal at Newspapers.com". Newspapers.com. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  17. ^ "Panama - Fort-de-France : autopsie d'un crash" [Panamá-Fort-de-France: autopsy of a crash]. Le Monde.fr (in French). Le Monde. 14 August 2010.
  18. ^ "Panama - Fort-de-France : autopsie d'un crash" [Panamá-Fort-de-France: autopsy of a crash] (in French). Film Documentaire.
  19. ^ "Crash du 16 août : " On n'oublie pas "" [Crash of 16 August: "We don't forget"] (in French). Martinique France-Antilles.

External linksEdit

External image
  Photograph of aircraft at Airliners.net