U.S. aviation officials have begun an inquiry into why the nose gear collapsed on a Southwest Airlines Co. jet landing at New York’s LaGuardia airport, snarling traffic in the nation’s busiest air-traffic market.
Flight 345, a Boeing Co. 737-700, came to rest with its front end flat on the runway and emergency evacuation slides deployed at about 5:45 p.m. local time yesterday. Arrivals at LaGuardia were halted for several hours, and a forecast for storms in the region today raised the prospect of fresh delays.
While Southwest reported eight injuries among the 150 people aboard and dramatic photos and videos flooded social- media websites, the incident ended without serious harm beyond the damage done to the jet. The episode was a “very rare occurrence” for the industry and Southwest, John Nance, a former 737 pilot, said in a telephone interview.
“They’ve got superlative maintenance,” said Nance, who runs consulting firm John Nance & Associates in University Place, Washington. “The reality is there is so little that goes wrong with the system, unless we started having one of these on a regular basis, this really isn’t something anybody should be worrying about.”
Flight 345 was arriving from Nashville, Tennessee, when the gear failed. A U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigator was looking into the case, as was the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, according to agency statements.
“Eyewitness reports indicate the aircraft’s nose gear collapsed upon landing,” Dallas-based Southwest said in a statement. The FAA initially said the crew reported landing-gear issues while nearing the airport. Then the agency withdrew that assertion and said the case remained under investigation.
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 FAA said Flight 345 landed on Runway 4, which according to industry website AirNav.com is 7,001 feet (2,134 meters) long.
Of the eight people initially reported hurt, five were passengers and three were flight attendants, said Michelle Agnew, a Southwest spokeswoman. “We’re just working closely with local authorities and the NTSB at this time,” she said.
Southwest is the largest operator of the Boeing 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.
LaGuardia had 131 departures scrubbed yesterday along with 147 inbound flights as of 11:30 p.m., according to industry data tracker FlightStats.com, along with delays that rippled out to New York’s Kennedy airport and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty. Some of the cancellations may have come before the accident as bad weather lashed the region.
Delta Air Lines Inc., the biggest carrier at LaGuardia, issued a waiver to allow passengers to rebook flights without penalty, while No. 2 American Airlines said it was bracing for the possibility of “dozens” of trips being removed from its schedule.
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.
Busy summer travel schedules may trigger delays again today at LaGuardia as crews remove the plane and get all the runways back into operation, said Robert Mann, president of aviation consultant R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, New York.
“You’re talking about extensive passenger disruptions,” Mann said in a telephone interview. “It’s a peak traffic time of the year, so it’ll be a challenge.”
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