Southwest Fires Captain Over LaGuardia Nose-First Landing

Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) said it fired the captain who was at the controls of a plane that landed nose first at New York’s LaGuardia Airport in July, injuring nine people and snarling air traffic for hours.

The action came as Dallas-based Southwest completed its probe of the accident, Linda Rutherford, an airline spokeswoman, said today by e-mail, without giving details. Southwest ordered the first officer to undergo more training, Rutherford said.

Cockpit procedure has been a focus of the U.S. inquiry into the July 22 incident. Flight 345’s captain, a 13-year Southwest pilot, took control from the first officer just before the Boeing Co. (BA) 737 hit the runway, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, whose investigation continues.

“The question is why the captain took control,” Bill Waldock, who teaches accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, said in an interview. “Normally, unless something major is wrong, the flying pilot is going to maintain control. The flying pilot can feel what the airplane is doing. When the captain takes control, it takes him a few seconds to understand what’s happening.”

Crew’s Experience

The captain, with six years in that post, had more than 12,000 flight hours, the NTSB has said. The co-pilot had been with Southwest about 18 months at the time of the accident and had 5,200 flight hours. The pilots had been on administrative leave during Southwest’s inquiry.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

The silhouettes of travelers are seen as a Southwest Airlines Co. plane takes off from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona. Close

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Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

The silhouettes of travelers are seen as a Southwest Airlines Co. plane takes off from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona.

“As a matter of policy we have not identified the pilots and we are not discussing the specifics,” Rutherford said. “We are also still in an active investigation with the NTSB.”

With its nose pointed three degrees downward, the 737-700 struck the runway first with the landing gear at the front of the plane instead of settling onto the main wheels located beneath the wings, the NTSB said in a July 25 release.

The forward gear broke, snapping rearward and damaging an electronics bay. Flight 345 was arriving from Nashville, Tennessee, and carried 150 people.

Union pilots are “disappointed” by the captain’s dismissal, Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association President Mark Richardson said in an e-mailed statement.

The union will “ensure the terminated pilot receives their right to due process,” Richardson said. “Swapa and Southwest Airlines are currently involved in the ongoing NTSB investigation as to probable cause and it is yet to be completed.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at maryc.s@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net

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