Investigation into LaGuardia and other rough landings

July 22, 2013 8:17:25 PM PDT
With the rescue phase of the accident over, it is time to focus attention on what went wrong.

We know the Boeing 737 is one of the world's safest planes, perhaps the safest with an extremely low rate of landing gear problems.

Monday's incident is a reminder though that we have seen our share recently of risky landings.

Only two months ago at Newark Airport, sparks flew as a U.S. Airways plane with a broken landing gear skidded down the runway on its belly. Incredibly, there were no injuries.

Last September, a JetBlue Airbus made a tense but safe landing at JFK when its nose gear got stuck sideways. Monday's scary landing occurred at LaGuardia, when a Boeing 737's nose gear collapsed as it touched down. In a check of the FAA data base, Eyewitness News found in the last 10 years just 11 cases of landing gear problems with Boeing's 737s.

''That's in the acceptable range if you look at the hundreds of thousands of landings," said Robert Ober, retired commercial airline pilot.

Retired Captain Robert Ober has flown the 737. It is Boeing's workhorse and considered the world's safest plane. Monday's gear collapse, he says, may have been caused by a hard landing that happened months ago.

"If a pilot or something else caused that nose gear to come down very hard in a landing months ago, or many landing ago, it could have started a very small structural failure that went unnoticed by normal inspection," Ober said.

In 2007, the landing gear of a Southwest Airline's 737 collapsed on landing in San Diego, pilots knew they had a problem and had diverted to an airport with a longer runway. The pilots Monday had no indication and landed on the shortest runway in New York.

"The larger the runway, the more margin for error, LaGuardia has 7,000 feet but it's not a good 7,000 feet," Ober said.

LaGuardia's runways are not the best because the runways are narrow and surrounded by water.

Among one area of interest to investigators will be how hard the plane landed.

The last fatal accident at LaGuardia occurred 17 years ago when a Delta Air Lines jet struck a concrete pier at the end of the runway, ripping off its landing gear.

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