'Pretty chaotic' as landing gear on Southwest jet collapsed, passenger says

CNN
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 12:00am

U.S. transportation safety investigators will try to find out why the front landing gear of a Southwest Airlines jetliner collapsed during landing at New York's LaGuardia airport, causing the Boeing 737-700 to skid down the runway on its nose.

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday it would conduct a full investigation of Monday's incident that injured 10 people aboard Flight 345 from Nashville and halted operations during a busy time of day at one of the nation's most congested airports.

Passengers later recalled harrowing moments of an airliner in trouble as it barreled down the runway with its nose scraping the ground. Smoke filled the cabin as cell phones and other items flew around the inside of the plane. Passengers escaped the jet down emergency slides.

LaGuardia flight delays related to the incident impacted the morning rush as crews removed the disabled twin-engine jet from the edge of Runway 4. It was transported to a hanger where investigators will examine the landing gear systems.

The runway was then reopened for traffic, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates LaGuardia.

NTSB protocol involves reviewing cockpit voice and data recorders as well as interviewing crew members and reviewing flight logs and maintenance records. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration will also be party to the investigation as is customary.

Southwest said in a statement that it was working with the NTSB and Boeing.

The plane, which entered service nearly 14 years ago, was last inspected on July 18, Southwest said. No details about the inspection were released.

Flight 345 was carrying 150 people when it arrived in New York from Nashville at about 5:40 p.m. ET.

"The aircraft skidded down the runway on its nose and then veered off and came to rest in a grass area between the runway and taxiway foxtrot," Thomas Bosco, the airport's general manager, told reporters. It stopped about halfway down the 7,000-foot runway.

Kathy Boles, a passenger, said a "strong jolt" shook the cabin when the gear failed and the nose slammed into the tarmac.

"It was just a bang and a bounce, and then a slam on the brakes and a skidding feeling," Boles told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360°."

"I feel extremely blessed to have come off that," she said. "It just really felt like the plane could have broken in half, it was such a hard impact."

Fellow passenger Anastasia Elliot said the situation was "pretty chaotic."

"We hit the ground pretty hard and slid," she said. "There was a lot of smoke filling the plane, just a lot of smoke and burnt rubber."

Another passenger said it felt like the plane crashed and then skidded to a stop.

"Everything in the plane that was loose went flying forward," Bill Roland said. "There were cell phones, iPads, books (and) drinks all skidded up."

In addition to 10 hurt on the plane, a Port Authority police officer was treated for heat exhaustion, Bosco said.

Initially, the FAA said the crew reported a possible nose gear problem before landing but later amended that to say no issues were noted ahead of time after a review of air controller tapes.

The 737 has a conventional hydraulic landing gear system -- a unit under each wing and a steerable wheel that extends from under the nose.

Pilots can land safely with only the main gear operable as those wheels absorb the weight of the plane when it first meets the runway. The nose is then set down for the remainder of the landing roll.

Nose gear problems on commercial jets occur from time to time, but the crew normally would be alerted to any issue during approach by warning lights and would have time to abort a landing or come in on just the back wheels.

Southwest is the biggest domestic airline and flies only 737s. It has more than 600 of the workhorse aircraft in its fleet.

Monday's incident followed a runway crash of an Asiana Airlines jetliner in San Francisco last month.

Investigators in that crash will not determine a cause for several months at least, but initial attention has focused on actions of the crew during approach.
 

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