The nose gear of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 collapsed after it slammed into a LaGuardia Airport runway on July 22, 2013 because the captain waited too long to correct the flaps, instead of canceling the approach and trying again, the federal safety agency said Thursday.
Flight 345 from Nashville was just 27 feet above Runway 4 about 5:44 p.m. when the 49-year-old captain took the controls back from her 44-year-old first officer, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report.
The flaps, which should have been set properly when the jet was 1,000 feet above the ground, were not correctly positioned until it was about 500 feet up, according to the report.
That was just three seconds before the plane, carrying 144 passengers and five crew members, smacked into the runway, coming to rest "in a nose-down attitude," the safety agency said.
Eight people suffered minor injuries.
Brian Parrish, a Southwest spokesman, said the captain was discharged in September 2013, while the first officer underwent additional training and has "returned to the line" flying aircraft.
An NTSB picture shows the Boeing 737 ended its flight crookedly, with at least one engine brushing the runway's grassy border.
Because smoke entered the cabin, and the impact caused the main cabin door to pop open about six inches, the left side exits could not be used. Instead, passengers had to be evacuated through the right side door slides and an over-wing exit.
The captain should have ordered a "go around" to try again rather than wait so long to try to "salvage" the landing, the NTSB said.
That is the procedure spelled out in Southwest's operations manual, the agency said.
Both the runway and the jet were damaged. Weather was not a factor.
The NTSB said it also was investigating a hard landing that occurred after pilots for US Airways Flight 1702 rejected a takeoff on March 3, 2014, at Philadelphia International Airport, according to the NTSB's latest annual budget request.
Neither the NTSB nor the Port Authority, which runs the area's biggest airports, could immediately provide statistics on hard or bounced landings.
The Port Authority could not say how long flights were delayed by runway repairs needed after Southwest's mishap.
The accident fractured the plane's nose tire assembly, which penetrated the electronic equipment bay, the NTSB said. It added: "The fuselage was scraped and wrinkled," and the housing for the right engine was damaged.