NTSB: Plane at Midway Needed More Runway

A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the airplane touched down with about 4,500 feet of runway remaining, but snowy conditions and other factors meant the plane ideally needed about 5,300 feet of runway.


A jetliner that skidded off a landing strip and into a city street needed about 800 more feet of runway to come to a safe stop, federal investigators said Thursday.

The Southwest Airlines jet crushed a car, killing a 6-year-old boy, after it skidded off a 6,500-foot runway and crashed through a fence at Midway International Airport earlier this month.

A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the airplane touched down with about 4,500 feet of runway remaining, but snowy conditions and other factors meant the plane ideally needed about 5,300 feet of runway, according to a report released Thursday.

Jim Hall, a former NTSB chairman not involved in the investigation, said the pilots landed the plane too late.

"You can come to the conclusion that the plane landed long. It touched down too far down the runway," he said.

The jet's actual stopping distance was about 5,000 feet, the NTSB report said. A tail wind contributed to the accident because it caused the plane to land faster than normal, according to the report.

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Beth Harbin declined comment on the NTSB's findings.

Midway, which is surrounded by dense neighborhoods, lacks the Federal Aviation Administration's recommended 1,000-foot buffer zone at the end of its runways. Only 82 feet separated the end of the runway and the fence the aircraft crashed through.

Chicago aviation officials have said the FAA has determined there is not enough room at the end of Midway's airstrips to install beds of crushable concrete that can slow an aircraft if it overshoots a runway.

Midway is among nearly 300 commercial airports in the U.S. that don't have adequate runway buffers. A recently passed federal law requires the airfields to extend runway barriers by 2015 or build the concrete beds.

City Department of Aviation officials did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday about the NTSB report.

The report said the captain told investigators that the plane's thrust reversers, which should have slowed the jetliner, didn't immediately kick in when he tried to deploy them.

The first officer was able to deploy the thrusters several seconds later.

The captain also said that the plane didn't decelerate normally so he applied the brakes manually. When the first officer noticed the problem, he moved his seat forward to apply maximum braking, the report said.

Both crew members said they applied maximum pressure to the brakes as the airplane skidded off the runway and came to a stop in the street.

Air traffic controllers said the runway's conditions were fair for most of the runway and poor at the end, according to the NTSB.

Joshua Woods of Leroy, Ind., who was killed in the accident, was buried Wednesday. It was the first fatal crash in Southwest's 35-year history.

A law firm representing the boy's family said in a statement Thursday that the NTSB findings were an "unequivocal statement" that the plane should not have landed, and the crew was "not prepared for the landing."

Attorney Ronald Stearney Jr. has said the family plans to sue.


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