It is a sure sign of how unusual the 2016 election cycle has been in that the near-catastrophic landing of Gov. Mike Pence’s plane into LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in October was forgotten nearly as soon as it is occurred. In reality, the hard landing Pence’s plane took, which destroyed portions of the runway and sent the Boeing 737 into a grassy area, stopped only by emergency barriers which kept the plane from crashing into the Flushing Bay. The accident was one of the worst in years at LGA, but similar to other crashes that have occurred at the relatively old airport which suffers from extremely tight scheduling and short runways due to the close proximity to the water.
Although Pence and others on board minimized the severity of the accident, the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said of the accident, “Make no mistake; this was a very close call indeed.” The plane had flown in from Iowa and faced delays in landing at LGA due to heavy rains. According to initial reports, the plane’s “spoilers,” which are devices on the wings that are raised to slow speed as the plane touches down, failed to automatically deploy and so had to be manually deployed several seconds later than they otherwise would have been. In addition, gusty winds hit the plane from rear and side which could have prevented the plane from making a safe stop.
Adding to these factors is the less-than-ideal runway design of LGA, which, due to geographic restrictions, lacks the 1,000-foot “safety zone” that the FAA requires airports to have at the end of runways for incidents such as this one. To make up for the lack of safety zone, LGA uses an FAA-approved Engineered Material Arresting System, which is essentially crushable concrete that absorbs the impact of a landing plane that will not stop on the runway. Without this barrier, the plane may have continued to skid towards the water.
Fortunately, no one was hurt in the plane landing, but others have not been so lucky during problematic landings at LGA. Eight people suffered injuries in 2013 landing during a Southwest Airlines flight when the pilot landed nose-first on the LGA runway due to a failure to slow the plane.