Miracle in Guyana: Caribbean Airlines crash could have been so bad

No fatalities, few injuries as 737-800 overshoots in rain.

Egos and macho fools in the cockpit.

by BFP’s Robert

Thank God there was no fire because according to the reports nothing else went right just after midnight when a Caribbean Airlines 737-800 slid off the end of the runway in the rain and broke up while landing in Guyana.

Cheddi Jagan International Airport is not a bad airport as the region goes. With over 7,000 feet of runway in pretty fair condition, the CAL Boeing 737 should have been able to land safely no matter the weather. The runway has an excellent friction coefficient (the surface is rough and grips the tyres), great drainage during rain and the approach is easy compared with many major airports (Try Newark for a thrill!). The newish 737 was light at the end of a flight from New York and should have been able to come in slow and easy, but…

but… all it takes is a combination of factors all coming together. I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that the weather was a little rough so the pilot added ten or fifteen knots because it felt good on approach. Then maybe he was a little high – it happens in the rain because rain changes the optics especially at night – then the wind backed and all of a sudden he’s floating down the runway and the sucker isn’t touching down. Go around or no? Yes? No? Might be okay?

Cockpit Culture is a Killer

Co-pilot starts sitting up, sweat starts, but he doesn’t want to say “Recommend abort” because some senior Captains get real touchy about some wet-behind-the-ears punk telling them they are a little high, long and fast. So the co-pilot said nothing until it didn’t matter anyway. The cockpit culture prevented him from saying something to save the day when they were floating down the runway eating up what little safety margin they had with only 7,000 feet.

I’ll guess again and say that they probably had auto-deployment set on the spoilers. This is a little killer that is supposed to make for smoother touch-downs and no-bounce landings. The moment the wheels take a little weight, out pop the spoilers to kill the lift on the wing and start to slow the aircraft. The problem is that auto-deployment removes control from the pilots and commits the aircraft to a ground roll and landing when someone in the cockpit might have changed their mind. Five seconds is a lifetime to retract the spoilers and get some lift going again.

So the Boeing floated for a bit – a little fast and a little high and then it touched down way too late.

And all of a sudden the aircraft is down and both pilots know it’s going to be close. Now that tyre on the starboard side that everybody decided was okay for a couple of more landings isn’t performing so well in the rain. The grooves are gone and with little tread it’s hydroplaning even when its mate is okay. Full reverse thrust – brakes doing their best and spoilers deployed to put the weight on the wheels – but reverse thrust is only a small part of what stops an aircraft. Any pilot will tell you it’s really all about the brakes and tires and pavement condition. Reverse thrust doesn’t count when the pucker factor is operating.

And momentum. It’s all about inertia and momentum and they lost. Truth be known, it was probably a done deal before the wheels kissed the wet pavement and both jocks were thinking “It’s probably going to be okay.” They didn’t want to be embarrassed by going around again, so they gambled and they lost. Fools. How embarrassed are they now? Macho fools.

Did they try and go around too late or not at all? I don’t know – but Thank God there was no fire because the smoke eaters didn’t arrive until ten minutes after the aircraft ran off the end of the runway and broke up.

Some of the passengers paid to take taxis back to the terminal after the crash. CAN YOU F**KING IMAGINE THAT?

Our friend “Tom” sent us a little message and he makes a major point about 250 hour co-pilots sitting in the right seat. Do you really think a 250 hour wonder will inform a 15,000 hour Captain that he’s a little high and fast? Shut your mouth! Not going to happen.

by BFP’s Robert

REDjet looking good!

by BFP reader “Tom”

Looks like some people might start flying REDjet after the big bully next door ‘scraped his knee’ … thankfully all are well on CAL708.

All of you who have any skepticisms i’m a Captain for a small airline in the Caribbean and have been working as an expat for 6 years. Put your misconceptions and pre-notions aside no matter how good the machinery and how great a reputation, we are all human.

I’m more than sure REDjet is fully capable of servicing their destinations with ontime performance and giving their customers a great service. Regardless even those with numerous aircraft will try and stretch schedules thinner and thinner to accommodate more destinations… money doesn’t grow on trees and fuel is costly, and a plane sitting on the ground isn’t making any money.

If competition is sprouting up its because there is room for it, ie current airlines aren’t providing the best service or perhaps the right schedule to accommodate the airlift required. Those that are miffed about their 10$ seat fares just understand that someone showing up to the airport same day will not receive this fare, its called seat hedging… if 20 seats sell at 10$ which is highly unlikely there will be 100 seats at over 150$ guaranteed… Don’t think that plane would leave the gate having only sold $1500 dollars in airfare. New airlines mean more jobs, or if you’re in a situation where you work for competition means more hard work for you.

I think many on here should consider the effects of a single airline operating as a monopoly and the true effects of that on their necessities ie seat pricing and schedule… Embrace any new uplift you can get and stop worrying about the plane falling out of the skies, your crew in the front are more than capable of ensuring it wont. And just know that minimum requirements doesn’t mean inexperience… I’d be more worried about flying on some carriers that simply put 250hr pilots in the right seat… where the crew might share 10000hrs that only means the captain has 9750 of those experienced hours and the First Officer is well there for show. 10000hours in an airline like REDjet means both are very capable individuals. And let me assure you all I don’t fly for them. but I thought I’d put my 2 cents in for dem haters.


Filed under Aviation

20 responses to “Miracle in Guyana: Caribbean Airlines crash could have been so bad

  1. PMAJC

    Great Article

  2. Paul Archer

    Dear BFP – with professional aviators amongst you, you’re leaving a bad taste in my mouth.
    I am all for Redjet as a Bajan national and I too am disgusted at the protectionist antics of the competition, but please do not try to use this unfortunate incident for political gain.
    It is distasteful and harmful to the aviation industry in general to get on a public forum like this and make assumptions about the sequence of events or what was taking place in the cockpit, and to presuppose some notion of 1950’s style of pre-CRM flight deck management is ludicrous.
    I operated as a captain in Trinidad for over 8 years, as well as in every other jurisdiction in the Caribbean, and Canada and the U.S., and from an operations standpoint the Trinidadian aviation industry is world standard – Crew Resource Management training is mandatory and is part of every flightcrew member’s initial and annual recurrent training. A Captain can fail a check ride for inadequate CRM.
    Let the investigation decide if SOPs were followed or not, or whether the aircraft was in the correct configuration, and the extent, if any, of crew culpability; the CVR and FDR does not lie.
    Leave the armchair quarterbacking for the hacks and uninformed journalists who so delight in attacking aviation any time there is an occurrence.

    There but for the grace of God go us all.

    “Learn from the mistakes of others – you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

    Captain Paul Archer

  3. Artaxerxes

    Unfortunate incident and I am glad that no one died. However, after all the fuss Kamla created, and her safety issues with Redjet, I wonder what she is going to say now.

  4. PlainTauk

    Captain PA, My eyes burned me when I started to read your comment. I cannot believe that BFP let your comment remain. I guess they know what you are saying is correct.

    I agree the article was in somewhat poor taste, yet I don’t think that they (BFP) would have expected readers to interpret it as such.

    Nonetheless, the author of the blog should apologize to viewers. Let’s hope and pray that those injured would heal and without any further pain.

  5. J. Payne

    I recall reading on here about stolen runway lights in Guyana.

    Have they been replaced?
    Secondly, (a question for some of the more knowledgeable folks in the aviation industry) If those lights are still missing, could that possibly play a part in this incident? Are there any other on-board systems in the plane that would make runway lights a novelty but not *absolute* necessity?
    Or would they not even matter?

  6. While I understand Paul’s ire – I think BFP was reacting to the nastiness left behind by ANASTASIA BEAVERHAUSEN who trolled in my name and Robbie Burns, it is strange how the same character has been so silent not even before the Timehri “incident” but now that REDjet is no longer blockaded…

    I am sorry for the passengers, I can only imagine how the crew are burning with shame – yet while I am glad there were no fatalities, at the same time – wasn’t it CAL supporters who kept wishing REDjet the ultimate ill in aviation terms?

    A good landing is one you can walk away from. A great landing is one where they can use the plane again afterwards.
    Popular aviation axiom

  7. The Moore

    On occasion articles are so obviously places to provoke a response and on occasion it’s fun reading them. A recent report highlighted problems with the 737 and I hope there is more constructive substance to this post than to than some others. I suggest this link would be a good place to start.

  8. amusing

    The likes of a Redjet is a must… but they too are playing the fool already. For the record Redjet has a cancelled flight to Guyana in its name.leaving stranded passengers. The old saying of” burning the hand that feeds you” comes to mind.. but i’m waiting to see if there will be a cancel Redjet flight to Trinidad because of insufficient load or will they suck it up in the name of pride and fear of competition. It maybe the norm in the aviation industry when the load is not there, but that “norm” is precisely what we have had to deal with for too long. All may be well now when the peak season is on, let us wait for Oct

  9. bajeabroad

    Captain Paul Archer,

    I agree with you that we should leave the investigations to professionals. But let’s not fool ourselves here. I am a licensed pilot as well and I struggle to understand how the slats/flaps are in their fully stowed position after a troubled landing on a “wet” short runway.

    In landing configuration on a short field I would expect to see Flaps fully extended (~40 degrees on the 737NG). Even if the landing was aborted during the roll then they would have been reset to takeoff setting (5 degrees standard, rarely 10 to 15 degrees if you really need high lift…as this situation would have called for). This is an OBVIOUS question that any commercial pilot would ask and have a difficult time explaining given that flapless takeoffs and landings (can’t even conceive them trying to land flapless at close to max landing weight on a short strip) are not in the Boeing manual and not in any credible airline manual. Has to be against company and manufacturers policy, and strongly points to pilot error.
    You have control captain…….explain when in your thousands of hours in a turbine aircraft have you EVER landed or attempted to takeoff flapless? If there was a mechanical problem with deploying the flaps, why descend all the way to minimums with flap issues? Abort the approach and resolve the problem. Declare PAN PAN or May Day if the issue is that extreme (no calls were made to ATC)

    Fly safe

  10. Pingback: Caribbean: Online Reactions to Guyana Plane Crash · Global Voices

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  12. Wily Coyote


    I would also have to agree with you, looking at the crash pictures, its obvious that the slats and flaps are stowed and both engines appear to be in full reverse thrust position. This would not indicate a “NORMAL” landing configuration. As both engines are in reverse thrust position it would kind of rule out a go around situation. Hopefully the CVR, FDR, @The Moore’s point and a thorough competent accident investigation can reveal the real accident cause(s).

    BFP’s Robert laid out a good theoretical scenario, I do not believe he was suggesting that this was exactly happened, however I expect a competent accident investigation report will have numerous similarities. Having some 40+ years experience in the aviation industry I’ve learn’t that you can never exclude any scenario no matter how extreme it may seem.

  13. Richard

    A miracle? If it was a miracle it wouldnt have happend in the first place dumass. Does your self-involved imaginary god create problems just to solve them in the knick of time?


  14. BFP

    Hi bajeabroad,

    I can’t see a flapless landing by accident or design. My guess would be somebody raised the flaps on the rollout for one of several possibilities:

    1/ They thought they were okay so they raised them as per normal.
    2/ They were going slow enough that the flaps were producing more lift than aerodynamic braking, so they raised the flaps to put the maximum weight on the wheels because they knew the brakes were not as effective as they should have been.
    3/ When they rolled off the end of the runway, or saw they were about to, they raised the flaps so that if they got off easy with just a nosegear or one side collapse they would limit the damage to the airframe.

    That’s my guess. I’ve never flown a 737, but with the old 727s and DC9’s if you think you’re going to do an overrun and it’s not too bad a situation and aerodynamic braking is over the old hands say you should raise the flaps because that way you might save a whole lotta wing damage in the event of a gear collapse, and you have the full weight on the rubber for maximum braking power.

    That’s my guess and as I said in the piece I have nothing but guesses – but they are educated guesses. If we don’t hear something about a mechanical fault I still think it was nothing more than too high, too fast and ego influencing judgment about the go-around. Same accident that happens all the time no matter the size of the aircraft.


  15. what will they think of next

    Serves them right!
    After all the hogwash about REDJET safety now this.
    I am glad it happen.

  16. Wily Coyote

    @ BFP “Hi bajeabroad”

    I think your giving the flight deck crew away more credit than is due, landing long on a wet runway and thinking about minimizing airframe damage is not paramount in your mind. Also note the main gear tracks off and on the runway, no runway skid marks and grass rollover does not appear to indicate any or minimal braking. The only reason for stowing the slats at flaps in this situation, after touchdown established, may have been to increase braking action, however the short timeframe(maybe 20 seconds) would hardly allow sufficient time to make the decision, make the call out and act such that flaps & slats got to the fully stowed position.

    Like I previously stated “Hopefully the CVR, FDR, @The Moore’s point and a thorough competent accident investigation can reveal the real accident cause(s).” We are well removed from the accident scene and can only offer theories based on limited information.

  17. Progressive

    Reading the article sounds to me like the author has considerable knowledge about aviation.I shared his thoughts about a fire on board as according to one of the passengers interviewed they did not immediately gain exit of the aircraft.The flight data recordings will likely reveal all.So if the pilot made a calculated decision that was wrong it will be known.I live near the Grantley Adams Airport in Barbados and see plenty of landings and takeoffs and I will say this much,it always appears to me that the CAL aircraft approach their landings somewhat faster than the other airlines.we jokingly refer to them as the ZR drivers of the sky,and if you live in Barbados you know what I am talking about.That every survived is nothing short of a miracle.Thank God!

  18. bajeabroad

    CAL does flight a slightly faster approach even down to short final (just before touchdown) than other 737-800 operators. The reason given when I spoke with a then BWIA captain is that they have concerns about the lack of rudder control the 737 has when flying at slow speeds, so they maintain a slightly higher speed to have more airflow flowing past the rudder, given it more effectiveness and control during the landing flare.

  19. Progressive

    Thanks bajeabroad for that info.But if this is part of the design of the aircraft what about other carriers using the same type of craft,or is this only a problem far the CAL pilots,because as I said they do land at faster speeds than other carriers using the same 737-800.

  20. bajeabroad


    Movable panels on the front and rear edges of the wings of the Caribbean Airlines (CAL) jet that overshot the runway at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) on July 30 were apparently not extended as required before touchdown and crash investigators believe excessive speed and other suspected lapses in landing procedures caused the accident, the Wall Street Journal reported last night.

    Preliminary findings by investigators, according to industry and government officials, point to pilot error rather than mechanical or other system malfunctions, the WSJ report said. A source close to the investigations had also told Stabroek News last week that preliminary investigations point to pilot error as the main contributing factor to Caribbean Airlines Flight 523 overshooting the runway at the CJIA.

    The source had said that information from the flight recorders as well as marks on the runway confirmed that the jet touched down close to halfway along the length of the runway.

    The WSJ report last night, citing unnamed officials, said that eyewitness accounts and data retrieved from the plane’s data-recorders indicate the twin-engine Boeing aircraft landed too fast and too far down the runway. Stabroek News’ source had said that the preliminary investigations revealed that the aircraft had touched the runway surface close to halfway down the length of the main Runway O6 at the CJIA. The aircraft touched down between two taxiways codenamed Alpha and Bravo which aircraft such as the Boeing 737 would normally use to exit the runway.

    At about 1:32am on July 30, CAL Flight 523 overshot the runway at the CJIA and hurtled through the perimeter fence of the airport before the jet broke in two. There were 162 passengers and crew onboard the Boeing 737-800 aircraft at the time of the crash. There were no fatalities.

    The WSJ reported that Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, Zulfikar Mohamed, in two separate interviews last week, said that the cockpit crew of Flight 523 reported no problems to air-traffic controllers on approach and data analyzed by investigators so far also doesn’t highlight any major system malfunctions. The comments played down theories that hydraulic or mechanical problems played a significant role in the accident, the report said.

    According to the report, Mohamed also gave the strongest sign yet that at least some investigators believe that movable panels on the front and rear edges of wings—essential to decelerate most airliners during descents—apparently weren’t extended as required before touchdown. “It appears that way,” Mohamed said, based on early findings and informal discussions with U.S. and other investigators.

    The article noted that photographs taken after the accident do not show either sets of panels, called flaps and slats, extended on the plane. Mohamed was quoted as saying that investigators found the handle in the cockpit, normally used to extend the flaps, in the up position, which would be consistent with the panels not being extended. “The handles certainly may have been in a position they shouldn’t have been,” he said.

    However, he told the WSJ that investigators still have to rule out the possibility that the wing panels could have retracted after touchdown, or the rescue crew could have inadvertently moved the flap handles when they were removing the plane’s injured pilot or other survivors.

    Safety experts and people familiar with the investigation, who spoke with the WSJ, discounted those possibilities.

    Completely retracting flaps fully extended for touchdown on a relatively short runway such as the one in Guyana, experts said, typically would take longer than Flight 523 remained on the runway. Furthermore, passenger-evacuation procedures usually require pilots to extend, rather than retract, flaps.

    Press officials for manufacturer Boeing Co. and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which has a big role in the investigation, declined to comment, the WSJ said.

    The report said that it would be highly unusual for an experienced captain, such as the one who commanded the CAL flight, to fail to extend flaps prior to landing. Such a mistake, according to safety experts, normally would prompt obvious and repeated warning in the cockpit, and the plane would be extremely difficult to fly at normal approach speed.

    The WSJ noted that images of the four-year old Boeing 737’s broken fuselage—along with reports of terrified passengers scrambling out of the wreck—sparked widespread public and industry interest in the causes of the accident.

    Guyana is formally in charge of the investigation, but much of the technical work relies on help from Boeing and the U.S. safety board. The board sent seven staff members to the site, “an unusually large contingent for a crash without fatalities, underscoring that local officials are relying heavily on the safety board’s expertise,” the report said.

    It pointed out that the airport experienced light rain around the time of the accident, but visibility apparently was good.

    Investigators, among other things, are trying to determine if some distraction in the cockpit could have resulted in improper landing procedures, the report said.

    The WSJ said that the crash here illustrates the persistent hazards of so-called runway excursions: accidents and serious incidents in which airliners careen off runways, often because pilots landed too fast, touched too far down the strip, or didn’t recognize the difficulty of stopping on wet, slushy or snow-packed surfaces.

    In recent years, regulators and safety groups have focused particularly on preventing runway accidents in which poor pilot decision-making results in landing aircraft being unable to stop safely.

    According to statistics compiled by manufacturer Boeing Co., runway accidents involving Western-built aircraft, including excursions during takeoffs and landings, accounted for more than 970 fatalities from 2001 to 2010. A report released last year by European air-traffic control officials cited runway excursions as “the most common type of accident reported annually” in the region and around the world, with landing overruns accounting for 77% of all such accidents in that category, the WSJ reported.