Close call: Boeing 737 almost crashes into the water while landing into St. Maarten

Mar 12 2017 - 7 Comments
By Tom Demerly

A WestJet B737 Demonstrates How the Famous Princess Juliana Approach Can Be Tricky.

Every aviation enthusiast knows about the approach to St. Maarten’s famous Princess Juliana Airport and the remarkable views of aircraft landing there from Maho Beach directly in front of the runway threshold.

While this has always been a great place to celebrate aviation, it can also turn dangerous.

On March 7, Tuesday, WestJet flight 2652 from Toronto was making a descent through a low ceiling to Princess Juliana. The first attempt through rain and low cloud cover was videotaped and photographed by plane spotters who are almost always at Maho Beach to watch incoming aircraft. On that Tuesday they caught a near miss: a near Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT).

The first approach puts the Toronto flight short and low, low enough that jet wash from the Boeing can be seen creating turbulence on the surface of the water. The flight crew does an excellent job of immediately applying power and going around for a second approach. Commercial flight crews, and especially those trained and, in some cases, specially certified to fly into airports with unusual approaches, are well-drilled both in the simulator and as 2nd officers for flights into these airports before captaining a flight there.

Even with the low cloud cover the second approach in the video has a higher trajectory, is more on glide slope presumably and has no problem coming in safely over the water and clearing the famous fence at Princess Juliana.

The video is noteworthy since incidents like this at Princess Juliana, St. Maarten are actually very rare. According to at least one source, there has never been an accident recorded on the final approach to the famous runway 09/27 at Princess Juliana (even though it’s pretty obvious there have been several near-CFIT incidents and actual mishaps by civil and military aircraft crashing short of the runway at the end of a final approach in both good and bad weather in aviation history). This further speaks to the special training commercial pilots undergo to fly the route.

While there have been conversations about closing Maho Beach to the public for safety reasons it has remained open since there have really been no significant accidents for observers on the ground and it remains a sensational attraction for tourists and aviation enthusiasts alike.

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  • Tiger 01

    It seems that the pilot was distracted by something pretty on the beach :)

  • nygard1

    Maybe it is some Canadian thing? Did these guys previously fly A320s for Air Canada – into Halifax? :D

  • Rick Smith

    I am wondering if the altimeter was set incorrectly.

  • why did they take 45 minutes for the second approach?

    • James Kroeger

      That’s how long it took to clean out his underwear and probably enter a holding pattern for his second approach.

  • IronButterfly

    No shame in going around. Plenty of shame if you run off the end of the runway.

  • FoilHatWearer

    Flying over water can be dangerous. It can be really hard to tell your altitude, that’s why you really need to watch your instruments and not use “this looks about right” dead-reckoning.

    Flying over sand is very similar. Deployed to desert locations, there’s been mishaps where military cargo jet pilots have landed short. Landing on sand strips, they’ve made some bad hard landings thinking they’ve got a few hundred feet in elevation before they need to start leveling out. Suddenly, boom! the dirt runway is right there to meet you.