Federal investigators looking into what caused a Delta jetliner to slide off a LaGuardia Airport runway during a snowstorm will probably take a hard look at the plane's engines and thrust reversers, aviation experts said Friday.
The twin-engine aircraft did not appear to experience any trouble immediately after landing, traveling about 4,000 feet down the runway, said John Goglia, an independent air safety consultant and former National Transportation Safety Board member.
"Everything looks fine, then something happened to pull him to the side," Goglia said. "Was it airplane-related, like the landing gears and thrust reversers, or was it the engine itself?"
If one of the engines was working and the other was not, that would cause the plane to veer, he said.
"If one thrust reverser didn't work and the other did, that might affect the pilot's ability to stop the aircraft," said Michael Canders, a Farmingdale State College professor who teaches aviation safety.
Thrust reversers on engines help slow a landing aircraft down by redirecting air flow.
The MD-88 jetliner from Atlanta, carrying 127 passengers and five crew members, plowed through a berm, broke a chain-link perimeter fence and slid to a stop with its nose hanging over Flushing Bay.
Twenty-eight people were injured, but none of the injuries were life-threatening, officials said.
The NTSB said Friday that the plane's cockpit voice and flight data recorders have been downloaded. Two additional investigators have arrived at LaGuardia, and a second team flew to Atlanta to interview the crew and review the aircraft's maintenance records.
The plane was lifted by a crane and moved to a hangar at LaGuardia where investigators will examine the damage to its nose and right wing. Delta had said the aircraft had a major maintenance overhaul in December 2010 and the plane had a routine service check on Tuesday.
Goglia and Canders would not rule out ice and snow on Runway 13 as factors in the accident, but both downplayed the significance of weather conditions. They pointed to reports by the airport operator, the Port Authority, that the runway had been plowed minutes before the plane touched down, and that two other pilots had reported "good braking actions."
The Port Authority closed LaGuardia after the accident. One runway was reopened a couple of hours later; Runway 13 reopened yesterday morning.
The authority, which didn't close runways at Kennedy and Newark International airports during the storm, did not say what criteria were used to determine whether runways should remain open due to snow or ice.
Delta declined to provide the pilot's and co-pilot's names, or release their employment histories with the airline.