The nose gear on a Southwest Airlines jet landing at LaGuardia Airport collapsed Monday afternoon, sending the aircraft skidding down the runway as it filled with smoke and injuring 10 of the 143 passengers on aboard, officials and those on board said.
Passengers and crew escaped the damaged Boeing 737-700 by inflatable emergency slides and either walked to the LaGuardia terminal or were treated near the disabled plane. Four of the five crew members also were taken to an area hospital for observation, officials said.
At a news conference Monday night, Port Authority officials said the landing gear on the nose of Southwest jet gave way as the aircraft landed on Runway 4 at 5:40 p.m. The crippled plane, filled to capacity with passengers, then slid halfway down the 7,000-foot runway, leaving a trail of debris and thick dark smoke before coming to a stop in a patch of grass, officials said.
"The nose wheels specifically collapsed," said Thomas Bosco, general manager of LaGuardia Airport and interim director of the Port Authority's aviation department. "The aircraft skidded down the runway on its nose and then veered off and came to rest on the grass area between the runway and" the taxi area.
Southwest Airlines said the jet, Flight 345, came from Nashville and was stopping in LaGuardia before heading west to Denver.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss said the agency had an investigator on-scene gathering information Monday night, but would know more Tuesday.
"Looking around determining where the damage was, we'll know more in the light of day," Weiss said.
He said the NTSB would determine Tuesday morning how many more investigators to send.
Port Authority officials said six injured passengers were taken to area hospitals. Three of those passengers were taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, hospital officials said. Four other injured passengers declined treatment.
Four members of the flight crew were taken to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, spokesman Tony Davenport said. The extent of their injuries was not known, although some of those hospitalized were being treated for anxiety attacks, officials said.
A rough flight
Passengers on board the plane said it was a rough flight with plenty of turbulence after the plane took off from Nashville International Airport at 2:33 p.m. It was scheduled to arrive at LaGuardia at 5:50 p.m.
There was no hint from the pilot that the plane, built in 1999, had mechanical troubles, according to several passengers. Bosco said there were no notifications of mechanical problems as the plane approached LaGuardia. The first sign of a problem occurred when the plane met the tarmac and a loud bang could be heard throughout the cabin, according to several on board. Others said the force of the hard landing jerked the plane violently upward before it took a steep slide forward and began to skid along the tarmac. Passengers described a screeching sound as the plane skidded for about 30 seconds.
"First thing I notice is that when a plane lands it makes that sound of the landing gear," said passenger Peter Cerneka, 38, of Harlem. "When it made that sound it just dropped 10 to 15 feet. We smelled something burning and the plane was tilted when it landed."
From then on, several passengers described a harrowing scene as the cabin filled with smoke. There were no instructions on what to do next, passengers said.
Thoughts of Asiana
"It just felt like the plane could have broken in half, it was just such a rough impact," Kathy Boles, a passenger on the flight, told CNN. "It was really more frightening walking around and looking back at it."
Chuck Drago, 35, of Los Angeles, was in the second row of the plane. He said the landing was rough and his thoughts immediately turned toward the July 6 crash of an Asiana Airlines jet as it landed at San Francisco International, killing three passengers.
"The plane skidded to a stop and the cabin filled with smoke. We knew that it crashed because it was tilted," Drago said. "At least I'm alive. At least everyone is."
No fuel leaked from the damaged aircraft, but emergency crews sprayed the area around the Boeing 737-700 with foam as a precaution, officials said.
LaGuardia was closed to all flights after the Southwest jet's trouble was reported, a Port Authority spokesman said. One of the airport's two runways was reopened for arrivals and departures at 7:06 p.m., the spokesman said. Flights were diverted to Kennedy Airport and Newark International Airport, officials said.
From several vantage points, the aircraft's nose appeared dipped toward the ground, its inflatable emergency exit slides deployed and the aircraft surrounded by emergency vehicles. A statement from Southwest said the airline is cooperating with local authorities.
Seth Poston, 31, Milford, Conn., was on the plane with his wife, Reanna. They were returning from Nashville where they had celebrated their two-year wedding anniversary.
They were circling a lot before landing Poston said. Throughout the flight, passengers were repeatedly told to secure their seat belts.
Upon impact, Poston said he injured his right knee when the plane bounced and he slid out of his seat.
"No mistaking what was going on," Poston said. "I grabbed my wife, she screamed and we started praying."