2017-03-07 Westjet Airlines Boeing 737-800 too low near Sint Maarten

2017-03-07 Westjet Airlines Boeing 737-800 too low near Sint Maarten

2017-03-07 Westjet Airlines Boeing 737-800 too low near Sint Maarten


The 737 flew very low above the sea on final approach to Sint Maarten Island until a go-around was initiated. The flight made a safe landing 45 min later.

UPDATE 2018-06-05

Westjet Flight WS 2652 from Toronto was on approach to Princess Juliana Airport, Sint Maarten, Neth. Antilles. The 737 was following a VOR DME approach (without altitude guidance by the autopilot) to runway 09. About 2 miles out, the aircraft descended below the proper approach profile.

It was about 0,7 NM out over Maho Beach Bay when the flight came extremely low over the water until the pilots initiated a go-around from an estimated altitude of about 25-30 meters.
The aircraft climbed out to 3,800 ft and entered a holding west of the airfield. About 45 min later the pilots made a safe landing on their 2nd attempt.
At the time local weather consisted of overcast skies associated with gusty winds above 20 knots, rain and the visibility was reduced to about 2,000 meters.

The airline denied in a press statement the following day, there was no deviation from the normal approach path, saying: “According to the information I have been given there was nothing unusual about the first approach.

According to credible eyewitness accounts, the 737 flew substantially lower than any other of the arriving aircraft. Passenger footage from a right-hand window seat confirmed the aircraft descending close to the ocean without a sign of any turbulence. Precipitation increased before a female passenger exclaimed: „Oh my god, we are so low.“ Seconds later the go-around was initiated. (see video below)

That same female passenger continued to report that it took about 10 minutes before the cockpit made any announcement. When they did so, they apologized for being silent saying they’ve been just too busy to address to the passengers. They justified the go-around by allegedly saying it was due to adverse weather conditions and poor visibility and that they will wait for the weather to pass. The pilots concluded they would be able to land soon.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation. [TSB-Investigation Website].

Westjet statement excerpt about flight 2652:

„[]..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…[]“ Read the full press statement

Canadian investigation authority TSB changed the incident classification from „non-reportable“ to „reportable“.

On 2018-06-04 Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) released the final investigation report. Available HERE.

„At 1534:12, when the aircraft was 40 feet above the water and 0.3 nm from the runway threshold, the crew initiated a go-around. The lowest altitude recorded by the EGPWS during the descent had been 39 feet AGL.“

© TSB of Canada


Findings as to causes and contributing factors

  1. Significant changes in visibility were not communicated to the crew, which allowed them to continue the approach when the visibility was below the minimum required to do so.
  2. The reduction in the pitch attitude led to an increase in airspeed, which resulted in a reduction in engine thrust and a higher rate of descent than that required by the 3° angle of descent.
  3. The occurrence of a moderate to heavy rain shower, after the aircraft crossed the missed approach point, led to a significant reduction in visibility. The low-intensity setting of the runway lights and precision approach path indicator lights limited the visual references that were available to the crew to properly identify the runway.
  4. The features of a hotel located to the left of the runway, such as its colour, shape, and location, made it more conspicuous than the runway environment and led the crew to misidentify it as the runway.
  5. The reduced visibility and conspicuity of the runway environment diminished the crew’s ability to detect that they had misidentified the runway.
  6. The lack of visual texture and other visual cues available over water contributed to the crew’s inability to detect the aircraft’s height above the water.
  7. An increase in visual workload led to inadequate altitude monitoring, which reduced the crew’s situational awareness. As a result, the crew did not notice that the aircraft had descended below the normal 3° angle of descent to the runway threshold.

© TSB of Canada

METAR: Sint Maarten Intl Airport (SXM, TNCM):

07/03/2017 16:00->
METAR TNCM 072000Z 05015KT 2000 -SHRA FEW016 OVC035 22/22
           Q1019 A3009 TEMPO SHRA=
07/03/2017 15:25->
SPECI TNCM 071925Z 05021KT 2000 -SHRA FEW016 BKN035 22/21
           Q1019 A3009=
07/03/2017 15:00->
METAR TNCM 071900Z 05018KT 9999 FEW014 BKN035 24/21 Q1018
           A3008 NOSIG=




© ATCpilot.com | Youtube.com

2 Screenshots from Mahobeachcam which captured both approaches:

© Mahobeachcam.com

NEW: Final approach of WS2652 from a passenger perspective
© ATCpilot

Van attempted to cross the final approach path on Beacon Hill Road until the driver realized the low flying aircraft and braked to a stand.

© Mahobeachcam | Youtube.com

Flightpath (provided by Flightradar24)

@ Flightradar24

Any additions or corrections ?
Please e-mail us

Aircraft Involved

© King F Hui | planefinder.net

Type: Boeing 737-800
Registration: C-GWSV
Age a/c: 8.0 years
Constr. No.: 37158

Occupants & Casualties

Crew Pax Other Total
Occupants  – 0  164
Fatalities 0 0 0 0
Injuries  0 0 0 0


Date: 2017-03-07 Time: 15:33
Location: TNCM SXM St Maarten Princess Juliana
Country: Netherl-Antilles
Flight phase: APR – Initial Approach (IFR), Final Approach, all Circuit Patterns, Missed Approach/Go-Around
Damage to a/c: none

Flight no.: WS 2652
From: CYYZ/YYZ: Toronto Lester B. Pearson Intl Airport To: TNCM/SXM: St Maarten Princess Juliana
Type: Passenger
Operator: WestJet Airlines

JACDEC 25-year Statistics :

  • 15th safety occurence for the operator
  • 462nd safety occurence of type (B738)
  • 2nd safety occurence at Sint Maarten
  • 1st safety occurence for aircraft in question

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