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Pilot error and unstable approach caused Southwest crash: NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has pinned the cause of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 crash at New York LaGuardia airport in 2013 on an unstable approach and the captain’s decision to take command of the aircraft at low altitude.

“The captain should have called for a go-around when it was apparent that the approach was unstabilised well before the point that she attempted to salvage the landing by taking control of the airplane at a very low altitude,” says the report, released 23 July by the safety investigatory agency

The aircraft, registration N753SW, crashed while landing at LaGuardia on 22 July 2013. It was operating flight 345 from Nashville.

The aircraft “landed hard” with its nose gear impacting the runway first, says the NTSB.

The force drove the nose gear strut into the electronics equipment bay and the aircraft veered right before stopping on the right side of the centreline of Runway 4, says the NTSB.

Eight people of the 149 passengers and crew suffered minor injuries.

According to the NSTB, the copilot was conducting the landing, with the pilot monitoring.

On final approach, the captain noticed that the flaps were not set at 40º, the proper configuration for that landing.

In response, the captain properly set the flaps as the aircraft descended through about 500ft.

When the aircraft was at 100ft to 200ft of altitude, it was above the glideslope, prompting the captain to tell the copilot, “Get down”.

About 3sec from touchdown, at an altitude of 27ft, the pilot said, “I got it” and took control of the aircraft.

The aircraft hit the runway at a descent rate of 960 feet per minute and a nose-down pitch attitude of -3.1º, says the NTSB.

The captain’s decision to take control of the aircraft at just 27ft of altitude “did not allow her adequate time to correct the airplane’s deteriorating energy state and prevent the nose landing gear from striking the runway,” says the NTSB.

Southwest requires that pilots initiate a go-around immediately if the aircraft’s flaps or landing gear are not properly configured by the time the aircraft is 1,000ft above the touchdown zone.

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