Southwest Crash at LaGuardia Airport Triggers Probe by NTSB

By Leslie Picker, Alan Levin and Julie Johnsson | July 24, 2013

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board began a formal investigation into the Southwest Airlines Co. accident yesterday at New York’s LaGuardia airport that injured eight and disrupted traffic.

The Boeing Co. 737-700’s nose gear failed as the plane touched down, folding up beneath the jet and causing sufficient damage to other aircraft systems to trigger a formal probe, Eric Weiss, an agency spokesman, said today in an interview.

Flight 345’s two crash-proof recorders for voice and data are being reviewed by the NTSB after reaching the agency’s Washington headquarters today, Weiss said. U.S. law requires the safety board to start a probe if a plane is “substantially” damaged, according to its website.

“The investigation doesn’t mean that there’s something seriously wrong with the aircraft, or the airline or the air- traffic system as a whole,” Todd Curtis, a former safety analyst at Boeing who founded consultant, said in a telephone interview. “The level of damage was such that the NTSB wants to have a more formal investigation than they would for a normal landing-gear event.”

Flight 345 was arriving from Nashville, Tennessee, at about 5:45 p.m. yesterday when the gear failed, injuring eight among the 150 people aboard. The jet came to rest with its front end flat on the ground and emergency evacuation slides deployed, snarling traffic in the busiest U.S. travel market.

‘Residual Delays’

“Residual delays” persisted today following the reopening of Runway 4-22, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the operator of the region’s three major airports.

Boeing has people on the ground in LaGuardia and is providing technical assistance to the NTSB, according to Marc Birtel, a spokesman for the Chicago-based company.

Goodrich Corp. manufactured the landing gear, according to Colleen Carroll, a spokeswoman for United Technologies Corp., the company that acquired Goodrich in a $16.5 billion transaction announced in September 2011. United Technologies is “standing by” to assist, Carroll said in an e-mail.

The jet was last inspected July 18 and entered service in October 1999, Dallas-based Southwest said in a statement.

Three passengers and five crew members were taken to local hospitals and had been released as of today, according to a Southwest statement that revised the tally up from six people. The carrier isn’t disclosing details of the injuries, said Whitney Eichinger, a Southwest spokeswoman.

Biggest Operator

Southwest added 0.1 percent to $13.89 at the close in New York. Boeing rose 0.9 percent to $107.79 and United Technologies advanced 2.9 percent to $105.12.

Planes with a so-called tricycle gear like the 737 touch down first with their rear main wheels, then lower the nose as they decelerate and complete their rollout. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said Flight 345 landed on Runway 4, which according to industry website is 7,001 feet (2,134 meters) long.

Southwest is the largest operator of the 737, a single- aisle, twin-engine plane that is the world’s most widely flown jetliner. The accident was the third this month, with varying degrees of severity, involving a Boeing jet.

On July 6, a Boeing 777 flown by Asiana Airlines Inc. crashed on landing in San Francisco, leaving three people dead and scores injured. On July 12, an empty 787 Dreamliner operated by Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise caught fire on the ground at London’s Heathrow airport.

Traffic, Storms

Some inbound planes to LaGuardia averaged delays of two hours, 46 minutes as of 4:10 p.m. New York time, according to the FAA’s website, which listed “traffic management” as a cause. Thunderstorms rumbled across the region earlier today, adding to the air-traffic tangles.

Counting arrivals and departures, New York’s three major airports had almost 290 cancellations of 488 reported in the U.S., according to industry data tracker LaGuardia’s tally alone topped 170 flights.

While LaGuardia was only the 16th-busiest U.S. airport by departures in the 12 months through March, according to U.S. Transportation Department statistics, it’s part of the busiest U.S. airspace because of the proximity of John F. Kennedy International Airport, at No. 18, and No. 19 Newark Liberty International Airport.

(With assistance from Mary Jane Credeur in Atlanta and Tim Catts in New York. Editors: Ed Dufner, John Lear)

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