A passenger plane had to abort a landing attempt at one of the world's most notorious airports when it appeared to dip dangerously close to the ocean. A Boeing 737, from Canadian airline WestJet's fleet, was filmed pulling up moments before landing at Sint Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport on March 7.
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).
This perception that the plane was far too low, perhaps as low as 50 feet, was affirmed by airline pilots who were asked to view and comment on the photograph.
"The photo tells all," said a captain for an international carrier familiar with the airport at St. Maarten. "It's quite apparent that aircraft is within half a wingspan of the water." If the plane was half a mile from the runway threshold, "they should be approx 400' above the surface to be on a proper 3 degree approach angle," he said.
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.Boeing 737
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.