LaGuardia Airport fully reopened Tuesday morning, more than 12 hours after a Southwest Airlines jet skidded and sparked along the runway when its front landing gear collapsed upon touchdown, injuring about 10 people and forcing a temporary closure of the air hub.
The Boeing 737 was loaded onto a flatbed and hauled off the runway early Tuesday, then taken to a hangar where authorities plan to examine the physical damage and investigate the cause of the failed gear.
Inbound delays of up to two hours were reported as officials worked to clear the runway where the plane had made its hard landing, one of two runways in operation at LaGuardia. Delays eased once the runway reopened to air traffic.
Passengers on the Southwest Airlines flight from Nashville, Tenn., exited the plane on emergency chutes just after the nose gear collapsed at around 5:40 p.m. The plane came to a stop in a grassy area on runway 4, officials said, and witnesses reported hearing screeching and seeing fire balls on either side of the damaged aircraft as it skidded.
The FAA said the flight "reported possible front landing gear issues before landing."
Passenger Bryan Foster was recording from his window seat as the plane touched down.
"We were expecting a normal touchdown, a normal landing," he said. "We hit the ground, and we hit it hard. It jarred everything forward."
Foster's video reveals confusion inside the cabin as passengers shouted questions and demands to open the doors. Flight attendants are also heard, trying to bring some direction to passengers.
"We were wondering if this thing's going to blow," said Foster, who worried when he started to smell smoke. "We don't know what's going on, so it got kind of panicked."
The plane was carrying 149 passengers and crew, and there may have been an additional non-ticketed child on a passenger's lap, putting the total number of people on board at 150.
Ten people, including passengers and flight attendants, were treated by medical personnel at the scene for anxiety attacks and some minor bumps and bruises, according to Thomas Bosco, general manager at LaGuardia Airport. Four refused further medical attention, and six were transported to a hospital.
The flight crew was also taken to a hospital for observation, and a Port Authority police officer was treated at the scene for heat exhaustion, Bosco said.
Bill Roland, another passenger on the Southwest flight, said it felt like being in a car accident when the plane made impact with the runway.
"It sort of came down really fast, and kind of steep. And then it sort of banged, and then it banged again and then it sort of skidded to a stop," he said. "It all stopped quicker than you would have thought."
Roland did not know at the time that the nose of the plane had caught fire or that the landing gear was broken, but witnesses on the ground saw what they described as a "fireball" skidding down the runway.
The plane "was just screeching down the runway, fire on both sides," said Steve Czech, who was waiting for his American Airlines flight to take off when he saw the Southwest flight touch down. "There was debris kind of rolling off to the sides."
Czech said passengers on his flight shrieked as they watched.
The plane ended up on a grassy area about halfway down runway 4, between the runway and a taxiway, said Bosco.
Southwest passengers said they had no warning from the pilot they were about to crash land, and the sudden impact left everyone "a little nervous and freaked out," according to Eric Westmaas.
The FAA and NTSB are investigating.