View Full Version : Air Caraibes Twin Otter crash

Cyclic Hotline
25th Mar 2001, 04:52
Condolences to all colleagues and family members.

Plane Crashes on Caribbean Island, 20 Dead

PARIS (Reuters) - Twenty people were killed on Saturday when a small plane crashed while trying to land on the French Caribbean holiday island of St. Barthelemy, a police official said.

He said the Air Caraibes Twin Otter hit a building and burst into flames as it came into land at around 4:30 p.m. local time.

All 17 passengers and two crew died, an airline spokesman told Reuters by telephone from the island. A man on the ground was also killed and his wife was injured.

The plane had taken off shortly before from Juliana Airport on the nearby Dutch Caribbean island St. Maarten.

"Police and firecrews from St. Barthelemy helped by crews from St. Maarten are at the scene,'' the airline spokesman said.

The names and nationalities of those killed were not immediately known. The spokesman said it was not yet clear why the plane crashed.

The Web site for St. Barthelemy says that landing on the island can be difficult.

"The airstrip in St. Barthelemy is small, and pilots are required to have special training to land. For many, the landing, especially on a windy day, is an adventure in itself,'' the Web site says.

St. Barthelemy is a French territory in the northeastern corner of the Caribbean, 125 miles east of Puerto Rico and 15 miles southeast from St. Maarten.

It is little more than eight square miles and is a popular holiday resort for French tourists.

25th Mar 2001, 06:29
St. Barts could be a very difficult spot to land. I had a very close call there in a Twin Otter about 10 years ago due to gusts. At about 5' with full flap and props in beta, the aircraft ballooned to about 50' with a drastic drop in airspeed.We barely missed the runway on the go-around.
My sympathies to all involved today.

25th Mar 2001, 08:48
Here's the story from the BBC website:

My sincere condolences to all involved. http://www.pprune.org/ubb/NonCGI/frown.gif

26th Mar 2001, 00:59
Condolences to Air Caraibe families and staff to who it must be a terrible blow after years of safe operation into a challenging little strip with unpredictable winds. If I remember correctly from the days when it was grass/gravel, radio contact was dismal so arriving aircraft would first overfly the airport to advise of arrival. The approach is over the sea toward a steeply rising ridge over which the wind is roiling. The ridge will be cleared by 30-50' and only then the runway comes into sight, some 20░ below your nose and the threshold 1,000' distant. It's a sight to behold and there are some Quicktime clips available on the St. Barthelemy site to give pause to those who might think Funchal is the be-all and end-all of demanding strips.

26th Mar 2001, 01:24
broadreach, your memory coincides with mine.

It's one of the most demanding strips I have every flown into, second is Statia.

Cara´bes is one of the safest operations in the region - they don't deserve this.

My most sincere condolences to the friends, family and colleagues of all concerned.

Pete the Travel Agent
26th Mar 2001, 22:48
This is a very sad accident and I feel very sorry for all concerned.
It seems the accident happened before the ridge after which aircraft have to make the sudden descent on to the runway. The weather was good. Mechanical failure must be high on the list but the aircraft did not have a black box. Can someone explain why ?

Rogaine addict
26th Mar 2001, 23:15
My condolences also. Last fall while on a diving trip, I rode on Winair, another Twotter operator that operates to the same destinations. I jumpseated into Saba from St. Maarten with 2 buddies who are also airline pilots. We must have looked like Japanese tourists with our cameras and video cameras going as we watched in amazement when they flew final on a 20 degree intercept to miss the mountain and landed on 900' of usable runway. This seemed more challenging than my experiences flying the Grand Canyon and I have the utmost respect for these guys and gals.

27th Mar 2001, 00:10
Local (St.Barth's) with map showing crash site


There was a tragic airplane accident in St. Barths, on Saturday the 24th of March, a little after 4 PM local time.

An Air Cara´bes Twin-Otter aircraft, arriving from St. Maarten's Juliana Airport crashed into a house in Public during its approach to the St. Barths airstrip.

The plane was carrying seventeen passengers and two crew.

Numerous eye-witness reports claim that the aircraft was making what seemed to be a normal approach and had crossed the shoreline, when it suddenly turned to the left, began descending rapidly, and fell upon an small St. Barths house below the road that runs between Public and Corossol, some distance from the airport.

Shortly after impact, the plane burst into flames, which rapidly consumed both the aircraft and the house.

Everyone on board was killed as well as an elderly man living in the house.

Though it remains to be officially confirmed, it appears that most of the passengers were arriving from Paris via St. Maarten. As a flight connecting between Paris and St.Barths is, strictly speaking, a French domestic flight, the carriers are not required to identify the nationality of each passenger, but it appears that the passenger list includes thirteen French nationals, one Dutch national, a Belgian couple, and one American. Two of the French passengers were recognized as St. Barths' residents.

The weather was clear and calm, and the customary turbulence during the approach was, if anything, less than usual.

Fire fighters and police rushed immediately to the scene, determined the condition of the victims, and secured the area. A team of French forensic and technical experts were quickly dispatched to St. Barths from both the Antilles and from Paris, some arriving within hours by military helicopter.

A thorough investigation is underway to determine the cause of the accident, but it will take some time to reach a conclusion. The aircraft was not equipped with a "black box", a device that records the details of the functioning of the aircraft, and, as a result, the precise sequence of events that caused the crash may be difficult to establish.

The pilot in command was highly qualified, with more than 3000 hours in the aircraft type, and hundreds of landings in St. Barths.

At the request of Mayor Bruno Magras, and by popular consensus, Monday, March 26th will be observed as an island-wide day of mourning for the victims of the crash, with schools, public services, and most businesses closed. A religious service will be held at the Catholic church in Gustavia Monday evening at 6 PM, conducted jointly by a Catholic priest and an Anglican minister.

27th Mar 2001, 02:44
Here are some photos to give you an idea of the approach.

[This message has been edited by SunSeaSandfly (edited 26 March 2001).]

27th Mar 2001, 04:27
The following site, in French, covers the special qualifications for pilots flying into St. Bart's. The site has both maps as well as a series of excellent and rather high-pucker photographs giving the cockpit view of the approach. The site also covers turbulence on final, with gusts from the surrounding ridge line. The approach seems basically to be flown through a notch in the ridge.

The photographs convinced me to always take a boat to St. Bart's.


27th Mar 2001, 11:38
Those photo's are awesome. Why don't they fly all approaches to 28, ie across the beach?

Does anyone there fly Twin Otters on floats like they do in the Maldives?

A sad incident.

27th Mar 2001, 14:13
I suspect it is the prevailing winds (westerlies?). From the pictures, it looks like the airport, beach, and surrounding town act as a cup and funnel the winds up the mountainside, and probably set up some fierce rotors spinning off the ridge line.

As a touurist brochure noted, the most adventurous part of your stay in St. Bart's may be the flight in.

27th Mar 2001, 16:59
The prevailing winds in the St. Barts area is the Trades. (Easterlies)

Occasionally we would land in St. Barts over the beach. Once my boss "collided" with a tourist. As the Beech 18 with nose wheel mod crossed the beach, a tourist popped up with a camera to get a close up photo. The nose wheel hit the tourist in the shoulder.
The pilot pulled up and stalled and crash- landed on the runway. Manin struts came up through the wings.

St. Barts has always been interesting, but if any airplane is suited for that kind of strip and apporach, it is indeed the the Twin -Otter.
I flew scheduled flights from St.Thomas to St. Barths in Aztecs and C-402s.
Sure wished I had the STOL performance and reverse trust of the DHC-6.

One wild man landed a DC-3 in St. Barts once.
He took off immediately,(Before he got arrested) flew back to St. Thomas and bragged to his buddies that he took a 3 into St. Barts. Nobody belived him so he flew back to St. Barts with the 3, jumped out and took pictures, then flew back to prove he did it.
(I refused to belive it until I saw the pictures.)

There has been many crashes in St. Barts over the years.
In fact the locals would sit in the airport bar, sip a Heinekken and wait for the next crash.
(Typically a rich private pilot from the States with a C-210 and wife and kids)
Usually once a month somebody would try and fail.

Also several commercial crashes, including the operator I flew for.

Get some high-speed boats going from St. Martten instead of flying.
It is only a few miles.

What a waste of human lifes.

Men, this is no drill...

27th Mar 2001, 18:20
I saw an private Aztec ground loop toward the beach end of the runway once. He wasn't on the strip at the halfway markings but tried anyway. I went down to discover 2 things: 1. The Aztec was all messed up, and it was his 2nd wreck there. 2. If you go to an accident, don't be the only one wearing a pilot uniform as spectators tend to point at you.
Also, a friend saw a 402 land so hard the tips of all the prop blades were curled back. It must have been the owner as he banged them back with a hammer before returning to St. Thomas with 10 souls. Gulp.

27th Mar 2001, 19:06

It was not me ground looping the Aztec or landing the 402 hard :)

When did this happen?

A fellow pilot for Virgin Air tried to land the Aztec in St. Barths during a rain shower:
He came in hot over the hill, landed long, started skidding with locked brakes, decided to take off instead, and crossed the beach and hit the drink with full power.
Everybody survived and I flew the FAA and NTSB down there a few hours later.
Also picked up the wet pilot and took him back to base.

For a while I did instruct new pilots on the St. Barths approach. Some could hack it, some never could.

Knowing what I know today, I will never fly in there as a pax.
Life is too short already.

Who did you fly for down there?

(I worked for Aero Virgin Island, Eastern Metro Express, Virgin Island International Airlines, Virgin Air,
Lewis Airlines and Southern Flyer)

Men, this is no drill...

27th Mar 2001, 21:39
These incidents were in 1991 and 92. I flew for Winair (DHC-6) and Carib Aviation(BN2A).

28th Mar 2001, 02:01
We've probably met, Q400. I flew for Montserrat Airways and Mustique Airways (both BN2).

28th Mar 2001, 13:15
I hate to hear stuff like as i'll be flying for winair in a couple of months. I still can't wait to get the opportunity to fly to St barts and saba firsthand though.
Q400- What is it like flying for winair? I am moving down from florida and am looking forward to living to St. Maarten.

28th Mar 2001, 23:46
Seeing those pictures of Twin Otters flying into St Barts prompts me to point out that off-strip STOL operations with Twins on "big wheels" in tricky conditions are commonplace for First Air and Kenn Borek crews in the Canadian Arctic Islands. I've had the privilege as a pax of seeing some masterful exhibitions of flying skill.

ozone ranger
29th Mar 2001, 02:31
Very tragic accident. I have been there a few times, by boat. I'm with Towerdog all the way, go by boat. Untill you see the runway you don't realize how bad it is.

29th Mar 2001, 06:26
TowerDog and Q400,
The one time I flew in as a pax was in 1981 or thereabouts and the pilot was a big (6'2" 130kg guy with blazing orange hair (based on which I assumed he was Dutch) and sweating so hard my main innocent worry was that he'd short half the electrics in the cockpit once he'd wedged himself in there.

The respectometer went right off the scale when it struck me, after landing (grass/gravel stip then) that he did this several times a day, day after day.

I see from the photos that the runway's now been paved and extended right to the base of the hill to accomodate even more optimistic takeoffs.

The Twin Otter is in a league by itself. I lived in Eastern Peru, flew on float models during the oil boom there in the seventies, and my blood is permanently curdled.

29th Mar 2001, 20:12
Working for Winair was fine. The pilots are in the Dutch pilots' union and the scheduling was pretty good. The aircraft are probably getting tired (50,000+ hrs) but I recently saw an ex Transport Canada machine (5,000 hrs)being readied in Columbus,OH for the trip down there. I was there on a 6 month contract over the winter. My training/line check mainly consisted of circuits at St. Barts for an hour or two. Good luck down there, you'll enjoy it.

Pete the Travel Agent
1st Apr 2001, 15:33
From what I understand there has not been a fatal accident involving passengers at St Barth's for a long time. Actually, because of the high number of small commuter flights from St Martin it is one of France's busiest airports in terms of take-offs and landings !

The point made by Q400 about the age of the aircraft (and the high number of rotations it must have flown)is worrying because mechanical failure does look a strong possibility. I still cannot understand why there was no black box and why the airline does not keep a full passenger list. It might strictly have been a domestic flight but most of the passengers are on through tickets from Paris or the States. Could be a bun-fight for the lawyers.

1st Apr 2001, 18:30
For Pete the Travel Agent:

Just so you're aware, when I was flying for Winair I had no concerns about the age of the aircraft. They had all been updated accordingly (including new wings in one case) and the maintenance was top notch. As a Captain, I wouldn't have flown them otherwise.

23rd Dec 2005, 02:46
The report is out. Looks like it was a high time Twin Otter captain who decided to use a little inflight reverse beta, a definite no-no.


23rd Dec 2005, 14:14
Thanks for posting the update - lots of interesting points in it, issues over currency on type, CRM, type technical knowledge, etc I have printed it off for all on our operation to read........