NTSB: Pence plane missed runway target by nearly 2,000 feet in 2016 incident at LaGuardia Airport
The plane carrying then-vice presidential candidate Mike Pence that skidded off a New York runway last fall was nearly 2,000 feet off the normal touchdown point and skidded off the landing strip at about 45 miles per hour, according to new details released by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Moderate to heavy rain was falling at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on October 27, 2016, when the chartered Eastern Airlines Boeing 737 flying from Fort Dodge, Iowa, came in for a landing. At the time, other pilots reported that the runway was wet but landing conditions were “fair” or “good.”
The plane flew over the end of the runway at 66 feet off the ground but then stopped descending when it should have landed, documents collected by the NTSB said.
The details of the incident — which resulted in no serious injuries to the 48 occupants, though three flight attendants were briefly taken to the hospital to be checked out for back pain — were made available Thursday in nearly 400 pages of documents. A full report won’t be released for at least several months, so a final conclusion as to why the plane failed to properly land has not yet been reached.
What is made clear in the documents, however, is that the when the plane finally landed — traveling at about 150 miles per hour — there was less than 2,800 feet of runway left. The automatic speed breaks on the airplane were out of service, so the crew planned to follow a procedure to manual deploy them.
The speedbreaks didn’t fully extend until the plane had traveled an additional 1,250 feet down the runway, and eight seconds took place between touchdown and the time max reverse thrust was initiated, according to the documents.
In a transcript of the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, the pilots can be heard talking about the incident shortly after the plane stops.
“We should have went around,” one of the pilots says, according to the transcript.
“My career just ended,” one adds as they prepare the plane for shut down. “Mine too,” the other replies.
A Secret Service agent is recorded entering the cockpit to check on the situation. After being assured no evacuation is necessary, he compliments the pilots.
“Nice job,” the agent tells the pilots, according to the transcript.
“Huh?” one of the pilots responds.
“Nice job. You stopped at least,” the agent replies.
Confusion in the cockpit
There was some confusion in the cockpit after the plane touched down and as the crew was trying to make it stop.
First officer James Conrad told investigators he later realized the captain, Michael Lorenz, had started trying to control the plane as they were rolling down the runway, without announcing he was taking over.
“He felt that there was a ‘lack of communication’ as he did not hear the captain say, ‘I have control,'” according to a summary of the first officer’s interview. “After they had stopped, the captain had said he was trying to get off on the last taxiway. Then, he (the first officer) realized that the captain was also on the controls when he was.”
The first officer also declined to answer several questions about the captain.
“When asked how he enjoyed flying with the captain, he declined to provide an answer,” a document says. “When asked about the captain’s proficiency or for areas that could be improved, when compared to others he had flown with, he declined to answer.”
Pence checked on passengers
Occupants inside the 737 were confused and startled as they immediately realized the landing was not going smoothly. Reporters, located near the back of the jet, could feel the initial skidding before the plane ran into safety material, designed to crumble beneath the plane at the end of the runway.
Once the plane had stopped, Pence came to the back of the aircraft to check on reporters and the Secret Service, asking if everyone was all right.
Fire and ambulance surrounded the airplane within minutes and evacuated it. The future vice president and his staff stepped onto the runway into the rain. Half of the plane was on the grass.
At the time, Pence told reporters he felt the plane fishtail after it landed, but added that he kept a saying from his son, who is a Marine Corps aviator, in his mind following the incident: “Every landing you walk away from is a successful landing.”
Since being elected vice president, Pence usually flies US Air Force aircraft.