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.