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West Caribbean Airways Flight 708 was a West Caribbean Airways charter flight which crashed in a mountainous region in northwest Venezuelamarker on the morning of Tuesday, 16 August 2005, killing all 152 passengers and eight crew.

The plane, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, was en-route from Tocumen International Airportmarker (PTY) in Panama Citymarker, Panamamarker to Fort de Francemarker, Martiniquemarker (FDF). The pilots reported trouble with one engine while discussing icing and later the other engine as well. They attempted to divert the plane to Maracaibomarker 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 at about 03:45 local time (07:45 UTC) into a field on a cattle ranch near Machiquesmarker, in the western state of Zulia, Venezuelamarker (about 30 kilometres from the Colombianmarker border).

Nearly all the passengers were French citizens from Martiniquemarker, 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.


All times are UTC. (For local time in Panama and Colombia, 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.
  • 06:59 Sends distress call: both engines malfunctioning, aircraft uncontrollable.
  • 07:45 Crashes in flames.


See main article West Caribbean Airways
Medellínmarker-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.[172600] 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.[172601]

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-81, three Aérospatiale ATR 42s, and six L-410s. [172602][172603]


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.

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 522marker on 14 August 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 3 February in Afghanistanmarker (104 deaths), and Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 on 10 December in Nigeriamarker (109 deaths). West Caribbean Airways Flight 708 is the 11th crash of an MD-80 with fatalities since the aircraft was brought into service in 1980. It is the deadliest air disaster in the history of Venezuela and the highest death toll of any aviation accident involving a McDonnell Douglas MD-82 ever.


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 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 continuously 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 were not previously damaged, and were functioning at the time of impact. Ground scars showed that the aircraft impacted with its nose up.

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