NTSB: Pilot error led jet to skid off snowy LaGuardia runway

NEW YORK (AP) — A Delta Air Lines jet skidded off a snowy runway at New York's LaGuardia Airport last year because the pilot used too much reverse thrust and lost control of the plane's direction, federal investigators said Tuesday.

There were no serious injuries aboard the airliner arriving from Atlanta on March 5, 2015, but the National Transportation Safety Board chairman Christopher Hart said it was "a very close call."

The report found that the captain and first officer were unprepared for the amount of snow that was on the LaGuardia runway because the information that had been provided to them was not current.

The Boeing MD-88 veered left, hit a fence with its left wing and came to rest with its nose on leaning perilously on a berm that separates the runway from icy Flushing Bay.

The investigators said the captain initiated reverse thrust — one of several braking mechanisms on the aircraft — before the plane's nose wheel hit the runway, which was not proper procedure, according to Delta or Boeing. The report found that overuse of reverse thrust on a slippery surface rendered the rudder useless.

The investigators said the first officer told the captain to come out of reverse three times before he finally did, but by then it was too late.

The NTSB also faulted the cabin and flight crew for failing to promptly evacuate the 127 passengers from the plane, which began leaking fuel after the wing hit the fence.

Investigator Emily Gibson said it took 12 minutes before the first passengers stepped off the aircraft and 17 minutes before all passengers had been evacuated. Reasons for the delay included a lack of decisiveness on the part of the captain, who "did not convey a sense of urgency to evacuate the cabin," she said.

She said the captain's inaction was compounded by the lead flight attendant's decision to tell passengers they had time to take their coats out of the overhead compartments.

Investigators also said the accident disabled the plane's public address and intercom systems, and the crew's training had not addressed handling an emergency landing with no working PA system.

Gibson said it was initially not clear to first responders whether there were 125 or 127 passengers on the plane. The crew provided the lower number, which didn't include two lap infants.

The transportation board, meeting in Washington, D.C., voted 4-0 to accept the report and recommend policy changes to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident.

Atlanta-based Delta said Tuesday in a statement that its top priority "is always the safety of our customers and employees."

"We cooperated with the National Transportation Safety Board during the course of the investigation and we respect their findings, conclusions and recommendations," the airline said. "Delta leaders will use this NTSB guidance to further enhance the safety of our global operation."