The out-of-control landing that sent Republican vice president candidate Mike Pence’s plane fishtailing off the runway Thursday at New York’s LaGuardia Airport is the latest in a series of runway mishaps at one of the U.S.’s tightest and busiest airports.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent an 11-person team to investigate the accident. Since 2013, the agency has conducted two previous major accident investigations involving planes sliding off runways at LaGuardia.
The chartered Boeing Co. 737-700 landed hard, slid sideways and came to rest partially in a grassy area during a rain storm Thursday night, according to Pence and news reports. There were no injuries though the airport was briefly closed and emergency crews were called to the scene.
“When we landed, it was obvious I think to everybody on the plane that the pilots were hitting the brakes very hard,” Pence said Friday on MSNBC. “It was about 10 seconds of uncertainty but we were all fine.”
While investigators haven’t released any information about the incident, it highlights the risks at some of the older U.S. airports hemmed in by development or their placement near bodies of water that have prevented them from lengthening runways to modern safety standards.
“There is no question that shorter runways present more challenges to pilots, particularly in New York,” said Peter Goelz, former managing director at the NTSB who is now senior vice president at O’Neill & Associates in Washington.
Because LaGuardia runs at maximum capacity for most of the day, flight crews have to be on their toes and may face greater pressures not to break off an approach than at other airports, Goelz said.
“There is no room for mistakes,” he said. “There is inherent pressure to make the landings.”
Pence’s campaign plane was landing toward the southwest on a 7,001-foot runway that lacked the required 1,000-foot safety zone at the end.
The jet was slowed by a pad of crushable concrete designed for airports without the safety runoff areas mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to tweets by the agency and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates LaGuardia.
Aircraft that roll into the Engineered Material Arresting System sink into the pad, preventing them from going off the end.
The NTSB earlier this year faulted Delta Air Lines Inc. pilots for using the wrong technique for trying to stop a Boeing MD-88 on a snow-covered runway. The plane skidded and its nose came to rest on a seawall on March 5, 2015.
“Make no mistake: This was a very close call,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said at the hearing in Washington on the accident.
A Southwest Airlines Co. 737-700 suffered major damage on July 22, 2013, when it slammed down so hard on the runway that its nose wheel collapsed. The NTSB found that the captain on the plane, who didn’t follow airline procedures, should have aborted the touchdown after taking control from the copilot.