Plane's Front Landing Gear Collapsed On Runway

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The National Transportation Safety Board has launched a full investigation into the hard landing Monday afternoon at LaGuardia Airport.

As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, Southwest Airlines Flight 345 arriving from Nashville, Tenn., skidded in flames down the runway as its nose landing gear collapsed after landing.

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“When we got ready to land, we nosedived,” said a passenger, Sgt. 1st Class Anniebell Hanna of the South Carolina National Guard.

The NTSB investigation is focused on the crucial final seconds the flight.

“There have been conflicting reports, but it appears they did not have any indication of a gear problem prior to the moment of touchdown, and it collapsed the moment of touchdown,” said aviation expert Brian Alexander.

Passengers said the plane came down suddenly and violently.

“It was 20 times worse than any roller coaster stop would be,” said passenger Nadine Koo. “It was like a big whoosh.”

The hard landing was also a shock to air traffic controllers.

Investigators said a gear collapse on landing is rare, but could be triggered by a few different scenarios.

“You could have a mechanical problem with the landing gear — that has to be inspected,” said former NTSB investigator Ira Furman. “You could have a situation where the aircraft landed and the crew lowered the nose too quickly.”

The 737 wound up on a grassy area next to the runway, where passengers used chutes to escape.

“The worst part was when the doors weren’t being opened and the smoke was coming in,” said passenger Andy Sperry. “You just don’t know. You just couldn’t breathe.”

The rough landing at LaGuardia came just weeks after an Asiana Airlines jet made a fiery crash landing in San Francisco, killing three people.

“These things tend to come in cycles,” Alexander said. “Aviation is safe, but it’s a human system so that always factors in and there can be complex equipment, so there can be troubles with that.”

Ten passengers were treated at the scene, and six were taken to a hospital with minor injuries, said Thomas Bosco, acting director of aviation for the Port Authority. The six crew members were taken to another hospital for observation.

Bosco said there was no advance warning of any possible problem before the landing.

“I’m not aware of any call from the pilot about a problem with the landing gear,” he said.

He said the collapse around 5:40 p.m. closed the airport for more than an hour. Dallas-based Southwest said 150 people were on the flight, while the Port Authority said the total was 149.

Both of the airport’s runways reopened Tuesday morning, a Port Authority spokesman said, and the plane was being moved to a hangar.

Some passengers whose flights were canceled Monday night because of the accident and weather slept on the airport floor, 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported.

“My back’s a little sore,” said one traveler whose flight to Toronto was canceled Monday night.

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The passenger didn’t seem worried about getting on a plane so soon after the incident.

“It’s been so long that we’ve been waiting, I think we just want to go home,” she said.

The flight was delayed leaving Nashville. Passengers heard an announcement saying “something was wrong with a tire,” said Hanna, 43. She and some family members were coming to New York for a visit.

When the plane landed, “I hit my head against the seat in front of me,” she said. “I hit hard.”

Witnesses reported seeing the plane skid and then catch 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.

The nose of the plane was “completely down on the ground,” said Richard Strauss, who was on a nearby plane waiting to take off. “It’s something that I’ve never seen before. It’s bizarre.”

Focus On Evacuation Protocol

With the LaGuardia accident following so closely on the heels of the San Francisco crash, CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported experts have advised it is high time for a refresher course on how to handle an aircraft emergency.

At Semco Airspace in Fairfield, N.J. – where airline chutes are refurbished – staffers demonstrated that the inflatable slides can be deployed very quickly even if they are not all functioning.

“With only half of the slides, 90 seconds after, everyone will be out of the plane,” said Rick Wissinger, president of Semco Airspace.

Wissinger had a few reminders for once it is your turn to get on the slide and out of the plane.

“Jump on to the slide, down the slide, most of your weight on your posterior, and more than likely they’ll have you take off your shoes,” he said.

Wissinger also advised not wearing skirts or shorts, so as to avoid possible skin wounds on the slides. They do not stay slippery, he said.

“I would not wear anything on an aircraft exposing the skin of your legs, because it is designed to slow you down with friction, and it could actually cause damage; skin rashes,” he said.

Former NTSB investigator Alan Yurman reminded the public to listen to flight attendants for instructions.

“The slides deploy and the flight attendants start screaming in the highest voice, ‘This way out! This way out!’” he said.

And while it may look like fun, the sudden slide to safety in the event of a real emergency is a ride most would much rather avoid.

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