Did WestJet Have A “Near Miss” In St. Maarten Last Week?

There’s a video that has been going viral the past week or so about a WestJet flight that had a unique approach at St. Maarten last week. WestJet flight 2652 was flying from Toronto to St. Maarten last Tuesday, March 7, 2017.

The weather conditions in St. Maarten were deteriorating significantly as the plane approached, causing the plane to get very close to “impacting” the water on final approach (altitude-wise).

Here’s a video of the plane making its approach (as many of you probably know, St. Maarten Airport is just next to Maho Beach, which is probably the most iconic place in the world from which to plane spot):

It’s tough to say exactly how high the plane was at its lowest point, but I think we can all agree it was much lower than it was supposed to be. Here’s another angle of the plane approaching from one of the airport’s cameras:

After the missed approach, the plane circled for 45 minutes (the pilots were told they could attempt another approach earlier, but since they had plenty of fuel, they decided to hold and wait for weather conditions to improve), before making a successful approach.

While there has been a lot of buzz about this, WestJet finally addressed the “incident” on their blog a couple of days ago, mainly to respond to the “unfortunate and irresponsible headlines” suggesting that this was a “near miss” or “close call.” Here’s part of what they said:

Video and photos of the missed approached spawned articles with unfortunate and frankly, irresponsible headlines such as, “Near Miss” and “WestJet denies close call caught on camera at St. Maarten,” with some even speculating on a potential disaster that was averted.

We think it’s important to share with you what a missed approach means and how this “near miss” was anything but.

Every day our pilots safely land some 700 flights throughout our network of more than 100 destinations in over 20 different countries, many of which have unique weather and terrain. Occasionally a landing will be aborted and a missed approach initiated if the pilots determine it’s the best option. In this case, our crew experienced rapidly changing weather conditions and as a result descended below the normal glide path on the approach to the landing. The crew recognized the situation, and the regularly trained and desired outcome was obtained – a safe missed approach to a safe landing.

There can be any number of reasons why a go-around could be made. Weather or runway conditions may be less than ideal, or there may be other aircraft still on, or in the vicinity of, the runway. Regardless of the reason, pilots are trained to initiate a missed approach without hesitation, and go-arounds like the one executed last week at SXM – while not something we do every day – are also not uncommon. Relying on their skill, training and experience, our pilots who landed our Boeing 737-800 at SXM last week made the right call, and the process worked the way in which it’s intended.

Now, their statement doesn’t exactly address the situation. They explain what a missed approach is, but not as it relates to this situation.

While go arounds are common, I think most would agree that this one occurred much lower than one would hope for. That’s not to say that the pilots did anything wrong, or that this was necessarily a “near miss.” Instead it’s to say that I do think this was a significantly more unusual go around than what pilots usually face (like there still being a plane on the runway, runway conditions being bad, etc.), which WestJet doesn’t address.

I’m sharing this video because I think it’s a heck of a video to see — it’s not often you see a commercial plane that low. However, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not the passengers were in more danger here than they’d be in a routine go around, or whether the plane was just a few seconds from impacting the water.

Comments

  1. Much ado about nothing
    Missed approach can even happen as wheels touch the ground.
    Nothing to see here.

  2. Lucky, as a frequently air traveler, I’ve been a passenger aboard a number of routine go arounds over the years.

    imo: this plane was way, way to low….especially at this airport (which should have been improved years ago…..I’ve flown in and out there and have no intentions of returning.

  3. Yawn……….more clickbait.

    Looks like a standard go-around.

    The illusion of unusually low is directly related to the fact it was less than 1/2 mile from the threshold of the sea-level airport it was landing at.

  4. Every landing involves being “a few seconds from impacting” terrain. That’s an occupational hazard of moving through the sky in a metal tube.

    WestJet did address “being too low” – they said that the descent was below the normal glidescope and as a result a go-around was initiated (that translates to “we wuz too low” in simple English). The pilots did exactly what they were supposed to do in the situation rather than try to force the landing or attempt other tricks that could secure them reality TV stardom on Air Crash Investigation. Why were they below the glidescope? Well, you wouldn’t know that unless you have access to the QAR data, assuming one was installed. Even the pilots wouldn’t know for sure without that. Besides, most mature FOQA/SMS programs have a requirement to file an ASR or similar when a descent takes you below glidescope, regardless of whether it results in a go-around.

  5. Near miss? No. Near hit? Yes.

    Aircraft was at an altitude of +/- 50′ above sea level, descending to land while 1/2 mile from the airport (which is at an altitude of 14′ above sea level and has a 6′ fence)

    That’s way below the PAPI with 4 red lights showing (red on red, you’re dead) so, yeah, I’d say it was a near hit.

  6. I’m no expert but usually airports have a specific decision altitute/ height at which pilots need to abort an approach unless they have established visual with the runway – the question is if this flight was beyond this point

  7. Go-around was the right choice, no faulting the pilots on that… It’s easy to second-guess their timing in initiating it, but I wasn’t in the cockpit that day, so I’ll hold judgement. At least they initiated a go-around.

    Many inexperienced pilots would have tried to land it anyway, and we might be discussing a completely different outcome in that case.

  8. PR spin from airline is laughable. Sure many planes do a missed approach procedure but they do this at a SAFE decision height (runway must be in full view by the time altitude hits 1000 feet, etc).

    flight was wreckless and they were in extreme risk. at their descent rate, waiting a to hit the TOGA (takeoff/go around) button, a couple seconds longer and they’d have ended up in the water. violently in the water. not like sully. With the gear down and aircraft moving 100+ miles an hour, touching the water while still continuing forward and hitting the dock head on.

    several plane crashes in the past have happened because you can’t just go from near idle power (such as during landing approach) to full TOGA power instantly. The engines take some time to get to spool up to full power.

    Pilots failed to maintain their altitude versus distance to airfield. Weather was very marginal (they later went into a holding pattern for 45minutes). They didn’t do a good job recovering they did a bad job with situational awareness.

  9. It seems the excitement is about how low the aircraft was when it attained positive rate of climb. Remember that probably means the engines had already been spooling up for 5-10s…

  10. If one reads Westjet’s statement while envisioning Melissa McCarthy channeling Sean Spicer, it’s actually hilarious… 🙂

  11. Didn’t look like a routine event to me. Looks way too low. Shouldn’t have got in that situation. But what would i know. Only 18000 hours in airliners.

  12. Thanks for sharing. It’s a fine line between something being a non-event and another Asiana 214. Fortunately most close calls are non-events – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth taking note of. It appears that the professionals in the Westjet cockpit had situational awareness and worked together to remedy a challenge. My takeaway is that I can have full confidence in a Westjet crew. I agree that the company’s response is a bit dismissive which can be explained by the fact that they do not want to panic anyone.

  13. Was that a box truck stopping on the road behind the beach just before the 1st attempt? Wonder if that had anything to do with it.

  14. There are times when only experienced commercial pilots should be allowed to comment on a blog such as this …

  15. Having flown in and out of st marten numerous times this is just good outcome of what was an unstable approach. Perhaps they tried to correct their deviation a little late but the decision to go around was correct action.
    You can bloviate all you want about how “dangerous” this was but in reality it was not. Was it a deviation from the normal approach? Yes.
    At my airline we use 500 ft as a bottom for stabilized approach criteria. Any deviations below that from glide slope, localizer, or airspeed +/- 10 kts Vref that are not immediately announced and corrected either pilot may announce “unstable go-around”
    A go around from any altitude even after a bounced landing is a no fault action.
    the fact that the crew recognized the aircraft was in an unwanted state no matter how late and corrected that is what should be your concern.
    Trying to salvage a bad approach, landing shows bad judgment.

    Having flown AC-680, SA-236, G-IV, E-120, E-145, B737,757,767,787 it can happen in any aircraft at any time. Nobody is perfect. Recognizing your mistake and correcting it to a successful outcome is what the game is all about.

  16. Hey Tim if the runway must be visible by 1000ft like you state then explain to me Land 3 Cat 3 minimums and Alert height vs Decision Height.

    Explain just Cat 1 basic minimum of 200ft/ 1/2 SM using your logic

    Please don’t assume on things you do not know.

  17. 77jake, are you serious? Did you think the driver stuck his hand out the window in attempt to grap hold of the landing gear??
    Have to agree withe Charlie Wiskey for exactly that reason!

  18. @Robert Drummer:

    “Aircraft was at an altitude of +/- 50′ above sea level, descending to land while 1/2 mile from the airport (which is at an altitude of 14′ above sea level and has a 6′ fence)”

    I think we can safely assume the aircraft was not below sea level!

  19. Being as this was a non-precision approach, and the press release from West Jet mentions a “glide slope”, I wonder if the pilots were executing a new optimized profile descent or whatever the heck we are calling it these days vs the old “dive and drive” method. This could account for the error, as 90% (my estimate, probably less for a Canadian airline) of the approaches we shoot are precision. I’m not a fan of the new method yet, mostly because I haven’t done enough of them. But MDA is set 50′ above mins, and a constant descent rate is used based on ground speed, usually around 7-800 FPM in the CRJ I fly. However, with rapidly changing winds during the descent, you must closely monitor your groundspeed and step-down fixes to ensure you are within the profile.
    Anyone know what the winds aloft were vs the winds on the field? What the ceiling was? Lots of missing information that is needed to accurately judge this event. They were, however, WAY too low too far out of course.

  20. “it’s not often you see a commercial plane that low” – I don’t know about you but I’ve seen quite a few planes even on the ground!!

  21. I was on that flight and I will say that the go-around was executed very smoothly without any incident in the cabin. If a mistake had been made, the pilot seemed very in control with their corrective action. I was not even aware there may have been a dangerous situation until I saw it on the news over a week later.

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