West Caribbean Airways Flight 708 was a West Caribbean Airways charter Flight which was to carry out a flight to Fort de France, Martinique. It departed from Tocumen International Airport in Panama City in Panama at 06:00UTC and climbed to FL310 initially then continued cruise climb to FL330. The flight was under a overloaded condition and the aircraft could only fly to a top altitude of 33,000 feet without stalling. In addition, due to the poor weather, the crew had to switch on the engine anti-ice system which uses power from the engines and therefore reducing the maximum engine performance available. with the anti-ice system switched on, the maximum height the aircraft could operate at without stalling was reduced to 31,900 feet. The airspeed steadily decreased and the horizontal stabulizer moved to 4 units nose up during the deceleration. The captain then requested for descent when he noticed the reduction in engine power. However, as the autopilot was engaged, and it was doing its work to maintain a constant height with the reduced engine performance, it kept the aircraft in a nose-up attitude which will result in a reducing airspeed eventually reaching the stall speed. At this point, the flight crew still did not know the cause of the problem and could only request for further descent to FL240. In the meantime, the altitude alert warning was activated followed by the aural stall warning alert and stick shaker, the indicated airspeed bled down to about 150kts. The aircraft was hit by a sudden updraft and finally entered a stall and the crew mismanaged it. The aircraft descended at a rate of 7000ft/min and crashed into a field on a cattle ranch near Machiques, Western Zulia State in Venezuela.
Investigation and Final Report
A final report was released by the Junta Investigadora de Accidentes de Aviacion Civil and deduced that it was due to pilot error which caused the accident. The pilots lacked situational awareness as they got confused by the abnormal behaviour of the engines, due to the anti-ice system and thought that the engine had flamed out and did not recognize and respond to the stall situation and the severity of the emergency. Also, the pilots lacked crew resource management as they were not able to operate the aircraft within its normal operating limits and the stall was not recovered from due to poor communication and poor decision-making between the pilots.