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'Pretty chaotic' as landing gear on Southwest jet collapsed, passenger says

By Mike Ahlers, CNN
updated 7:16 AM EDT, Wed July 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Southwest reaches out to passengers of Flight 345
  • The Boeing 737 is moved to a hangar for inspection
  • A passenger describes "a bang and a bounce" as the nose gear fails
  • Ten people sustained minor injuries when jet skidded on nose after landing

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(CNN) -- A Southwest Airlines jetliner sustained substantial damage when its nose gear collapsed during landing in New York and it skidded down the runway, injuring 10 people.

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday that the extent of damage to the Boeing 737-700 prompted it to launch a full investigation of Monday's incident at LaGuardia airport.

"When the nose wheel collapsed it didn't just neatly fold back up there but it produced collateral damage in the nose wheel well," safety board spokesman Eric Weiss told CNN.

Separately, Southwest reached out to Flight 345 passengers, some of whom reported chaos and confusion in the cabin as the plane slid down 7,000-foot Runway 4 with its nose scraping the tarmac.

Runway reopens after hard landing

Airline officials, in e-mails obtained by CNN, apologized for the "unexpected experience" and inconvenience and expressed concern for their well being. Southwest is refunding air fares and sending them complimentary tickets for future travel.

Southwest, the largest domestic airline, did not respond to efforts by CNN to confirm the e-mails.

Passengers recounted the final harrowing moments of what had been a delayed, but uneventful flight from Nashville.

Kathy Boles, a passenger, said a "strong jolt" shook the cabin when the gear failed and the nose slammed into the tarmac at about 5:40 p.m. ET.

"It was just a bang and a bounce, and then a slam on the brakes and a skidding feeling," Boles told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360°."

"I feel extremely blessed to have come off that," she said. "It just really felt like the plane could have broken in half, it was such a hard impact."

Fellow passenger Anastasia Elliot said the situation was "pretty chaotic."

"We hit the ground pretty hard and slid," she said. "There was a lot of smoke filling the plane, just a lot of smoke and burnt rubber."

Another passenger said it felt like the plane crashed and then skidded to a stop.

"Everything in the plane that was loose went flying forward," Bill Roland said. "There were cell phones, iPads, books (and) drinks all skidded up."

Passengers escaped the plane down emergency chutes.

LaGuardia flight delays related to the incident impacted the morning rush as crews removed the disabled twin-engine jet from the edge of the runway where it came to rest. It was towed to a hangar.

By evening, delays had returned, but they were tied to normal stormy summer weather along the East Coast.

NTSB protocol involves reviewing cockpit voice and data recorders as well as interviewing crew members and reviewing flight logs and maintenance records. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration will also be party to the investigation as is customary.

Southwest said in a statement that it was working with the NTSB and Boeing.

The plane, which entered service nearly 14 years ago, was last inspected on July 18, Southwest said. No details about the inspection were released.

In addition to 10 hurt on the plane, a Port Authority police officer was treated for heat exhaustion, the agency said.

Initially, the FAA said the crew reported a possible nose gear problem before landing but later amended that to say no issues were noted ahead of time after a review of air controller tapes.

The 737 has a conventional hydraulic landing gear system -- a unit under each wing and a steerable wheel that extends from under the nose.

Pilots can land safely with only the main gear operable as those wheels absorb the weight of the plane when it first meets the runway. The nose is then set down for the remainder of the landing roll.

Nose gear problems on commercial jets occur from time to time, but the crew normally would be alerted to any issue during approach by warning lights and would have time to abort a landing or come in on just the back wheels.

Southwest is the biggest domestic airline and flies only 737s. It has more than 600 of the workhorse aircraft in its fleet.

Monday's incident followed a runway crash of an Asiana Airlines jetliner in San Francisco last month.

Investigators in that crash will not determine a cause for several months at least, but initial attention has focused on actions of the crew during approach.

In May: Plane lands without landing gear at Newark

CNN's Caleb Silver, Poppy Harlow, and Mary Snow contributed to this report.

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