Southwest crash at LaGuardia triggers probe by NTSB

NEW YORK – The National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday began a formal investigation into the Southwest Airlines accident Monday at New York’s LaGuardia airport that injured eight and disrupted traffic.

The Boeing Co. 737-700’s nose gear failed as the plane touched down, folding up beneath the jet and causing sufficient damage to other aircraft systems to trigger a formal probe, Eric Weiss, an agency spokesman, said Tuesday in an interview.

The NTSB has already begun a review of the 737’s two crash- proof recorders, which carried sound from the cockpit and data from the aircraft systems, said Weiss. The recorders arrived at the agency’s Washington headquarters today, he said. U.S. law requires the safety board to start a probe if a plane is “substantially” damaged, according to its website.

Flight 345 was arriving from Nashville, Tenn., at about 5:45 p.m. yesterday when the gear failed, injuring eight among the 150 people aboard. Flights Tuesday experienced “residual delays” following the reopening of the runway, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York &New Jersey, the operator of the region’s three major airports.

Boeing has people on the ground in LaGuardia and is providing technical assistance to the NTSB, according to Marc Birtel, a spokesman for the Chicago-based company.

Goodrich Corp. manufactured the landing gear, Colleen Carroll, a spokeswoman for United Technologies Corp., said in an e-mail. United Technologies acquired Goodrich in a $16.5 billion transaction announced in September 2011. The company is “standing by” to assist in the investigation, she said.

The jet was last inspected July 18 and entered service in October 1999, Dallas-based Southwest said in a statement.

Some inbound planes to LaGuardia averaged delays of two hours, 46 minutes as of 2:31 p.m. New York time, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s website, which listed “traffic management” as a cause. Thunderstorms rumbled across the region earlier today, adding to the air-traffic tangles.

Counting arrivals and departures, New York’s three major airports had more than 250 cancellations of 428 reported in the United States, according to industry data tracker FlightAware.com. LaGuardia’s tally alone topped 140 flights.

Three passengers and five crew members were taken to local hospitals and had been released as of Tuesday, according to a Southwest statement that revised the tally up from six people. The carrier isn’t disclosing details of the injuries, said Whitney Eichinger, a Southwest spokeswoman.

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.

Southwest is the largest operator of the 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.

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.

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