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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Air traffic was shut down at LaGuardia Airport early Monday evening, after a plane’s nose gear collapsed following a landing.
According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates LaGuardia, the front wheel of Southwest Airlines Flight 345, a Boeing 737-700, from Nashville to LaGuardia popped while the plane was taxiing on Runway 4 around 5:40 p.m. The gear then buckled, forcing the nose to the tarmac.
The aircraft veered off and came to rest in a grassy area about halfway down the runway, airport general manager Thomas Bosco said.
The pilot did not report any problems before landing, he said.
Police and fire crews immediately responded and took all the passengers to the terminal. The airport was closed immediately by alert staff at 5:50 p.m. It was reopened at 7 p.m., Bosco said.
But the airport remained effectively closed to most incoming flights, and dozens of departing flights were canceled or delayed across the board. Passengers from various airlines were forced to rebook.
As of 8:45 p.m., some arriving flights were delayed up to four hours, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.
During the closure, no flights arrived at or departed from the airport at all.
A total of 149 people, including crew, were on board, according to the Port Authority. Six were hospitalized, four of them for anxiety attacks. Ten of the passengers were treated at the scene. Four refused hospitalization, while the other six were taken to Elmhurst General Hospital, Bosco said.
The flight crew was taken to North Shore General Hospital for observation, Bosco said. One Port Authority police officer was also treated at the scene for heat exhaustion, he said.
All the passengers evacuated by emergency chute, according to the Port Authority.
At the airport, witnesses cried and hugged loved ones as they saw the accident unfold, CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reported.
“The plane went by, the tires went by, the cops went by, the fire trucks went by,” said Steve Paragus of Key Largo, Fla. “It was incredible.”
Richard Strauss, the president of Strauss Media Strategies, was on another plane on the tarmac at LaGuardia and witnessed the aftermath of the Southwest landing.
“That nose gear is completely off the plane and the nose is sitting on the ground. There’s probably four different fire trucks that have been, in the last half hour, spraying some kind of retardant or water to try to put out any potential fire that may have been there,” Strauss told WCBS 880 around 6:15 p.m.
Strauss said he could see the damaged Southwest plane from the right side windows of his D.C.-bound plane. He added that his pilot told passengers that they were not allowed to taxi back to the gate as part of the ground stop, and would be stuck on the tarmac.
Steve Paragus was waiting on another flight as well and said he not only saw sparks, but passengers exiting the damaged plane on the emergency slide.
“It was really a fast response. They were that quick,” he said. “I’m sure that helped a lot.”
For Nadine Koo, 14, it was the first time she had ever flown alone.
“You like completely went forward, like it was nothing like I ever experienced before. It’s like ‘boosh!’” she said.
Passengers said the confusion over what had happened quickly gave way to an orderly exit.
Debbie Marsella’s daughter was on the plane.
“It actually got where you could feel the heat inside the cabin, and the doors flung open, and the chutes came out,” said Marsella, of Milford, Conn.
Marsella’s mother got a call that something went wrong.
“She was like, ‘Mom, the plane crashed, but we are OK,’” she said.
Christopher Reilly was waiting to be reunited with his family, after a terrifying time.
“There was smoke in the cabin. There was smoke filling the cabin. People were choking and coughing,” he said. “They all slid out the emergency chute. They were hanging out for a while; I think they’re on their way back now.”
Retired airline captain J.P. Tristiani told CBS 2 that while passengers were shaken up, the incident was “not anything at all like the 777 going into a crash” in San Francisco recently.
A shuttle bus brought passengers to the terminal to be interviewed by authorities, CBS 2’s Dennis reported.
Retired pilot Bill Schillinger told CBS 2’s Maurice DuBois the passengers likely felt a violent jolt when the gear collapsed.
“If you touch down, you’d be touching down about 130 knots or something like that – that’s 160 mph – and you’d be slowing down perhaps to 100 mph, something like that,” he said.
But a nose gear failure is preferable to a side gear failure, Schillinger said.
“Fortunately, when it is the nose gear, it usually does not give you directional problems. That would happen if it were on of the side gears,” he said.
Southwest Airlines released a statement, reading in part:
“Eyewitness reports indicate the aircraft’s nose gear collapsed upon landing. There were 150 people on board including Customers and Crew. All Customers have been deplaned and transferred to the terminal. Initial reports indicate local responders are caring for five Customers and three flight attendants who have reported injuries at this time.”
As of the 8 p.m. hour, crews were on the scene assessing damage to the runway, and National Transportation Safety Board teams were investigating the cause, CBS 2′s Jessica Schneider reported. The aircraft itself also remained at the scene and had to be cleared, Bosco said.
Port Authority officials said that everything appeared to be going smoothly until the Boeing 737-700 was about halfway down the runway and skidded into a stretch of grass next to the tarmac.
“I’m not aware of any call from the pilot about a problem with the landing gear,” Bosco said.
Witnesses reported seeing the plane skid and then catch on fire.
“The front one didn’t stop where it’s supposed to, you know it didn’t stop where it was supposed to, it just skidded and was on fire,” Melinda Andujar said.
Bosco said that LaGuardia would have the runway open by the morning.
“Once the NTSB gives the all clear we will clear the runway of debris,” he said, “We are assessing physical damage to the runway caused by the incident and we hope to have it open by tomorrow morning.”
Once the plane is cleared from the scene, the passengers’ luggage will be returned, Schneider reported. Passengers were being reunited with their families in the Air Canada Club and the United Club.
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