Narrative: Flight SATA 730 was an international charter service from Zurich to Funchal Airport, Madeira, Portugal via Geneva, Switzerland. The Caravelle aircraft landed at Geneva at 14:30 UTC. Departure was delayed because a hydraulic pump had to be replaced. The flight deck crew consisted of two captain. A new captain was in the left-hand seat and was piloting the aircraft. The other captain (who was in the right-hand seat) performed the duties of pilot-in-command, pilot responsible for the initiation to Funchal, route check pilot and co-pilot. Initiation of the new captain was necessary because of the difficult approach and landing at Funchal. However, this initiation ought to have been made by day. The aircraft took off at 16:26. The flight then progressed in accordance with the flight plan. At 19:38 the crew contacted Madeira control, reporting Rose Point at FL330; the aircraft was cleared to leave this flight level at 19:41. The crew then asked for descent instructions and received clearance to descend to FL050; it was requested to contact control again when this level was reached or when overflying the Porto Santo (PST) NDB. At 19:55 the crew reported being overhead the PST at FL085. The aircraft was instructed to continue its descent to FL050, then to contact Funchal approach control. At 19:57 the crew contacted Funchal approach control, which stated that runway 06 was in service and cleared the aircraft to descend to 3500 ft, the QNH being 1014.0 mb. After being cleared for the approach the crew descended below the 720 ft permitted during circling, even though they had lost sight of the runway. The pilots, had lost sight of the runway lights at the end of the downwind leg and at the beginning of the base leg, when the aircraft was already flying below 200 ft. The radio altimeter had probably been preset to 200 ft, but the pilots did not check its indications. The aircraft touched the sea soon after the base leg turn. The landing gear and flaps (20°) were out.
CAUSE: "The accident was caused by an involuntary ditching during the approach. The fact that the aircraft was flying below the descent plane may have been due to a lack of co-ordination between the pilots and a sensorial illusion on the part of the crew, when it was preoccupied with the search for visual runway references."
This map shows the airport of departure and the intended destination of the flight. The line between the airports does not display the exact flight path. Distance from Genève-Cointrin Airport to Funchal Airport as the crow flies is 2442 km (1526 miles).