Ex-transportation chief to lead probe into JFK flight fiasco

The investigation into a slew of problems at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport that caused days of cancellations and delays will be led by Ray LaHood, the former head of the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Obama administration, officials said Wednesday.

The announcement comes as thousands of bags remain stranded at the airport waiting to be reunited with passengers who were affected by the weekend meltdown.  Some estimates put the number of bags still sitting at the airport at 5,000.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said LaHood would begin his investigation next week, and would put together a team with independent resources and experts. The agency that oversees the airport said a report of his findings and recommendations was expected in the coming months.

"The series of events following the winter storm this month were completely unacceptable," said Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority. "We are committed to understanding where and why failures occurred, and making whatever changes are necessary to assure these failures never happen again."

The chaos at the airport started Thursday, when a winter storm hit New York amid unusually cold weather. It created what the Port Authority called a cascade of problems, as temperatures in the area were in the teens and even went down to the single digits. That led to issues with frozen equipment, which led to problems in handling luggage. Other stresses like staff shortages contributed as well to the slowdown of operations on the ground.

Arriving international flights got backlogged, as arrival gates got clogged up. That led to some passengers waiting on their planes on the tarmac for hours before being bused to terminals, while other flights were diverted. Cancellations and delays abounded, and as the planes tried to maneuver around each other, one clipped another outside a terminal on Saturday.

The scene got even more chaotic on Sunday, when a water pipe broke and sent a few inches of water into Terminal 4, forcing international arrivals to be suspended for a few hours.

LaHood served as transportation secretary from 2009 to 2013. He is currently a senior policy adviser at the law firm DLA Piper.

With the Associated Press