WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the captain’s failed attempt to recover from an unstabilized approach by transferring airplane control at low altitude instead of performing a go-around, caused a hard landing at LaGuardia International Airport in Queens, New York.
On July 22, 2013, a Boeing 737, operated as Southwest Airlines flight 345, landed hard, nose-first, on runway 4 at LGA. Of the 144 passengers and five crewmembers on board, eight sustained minor injuries and the airplane was substantially damaged.
Contributing to the accident was the captain’s failure to comply with standard operating procedures during the approach. NTSB found that the first officer was conducting the approach, and the captain took control away from the first officer, but not until the plane was 27 feet above the ground. This late transfer of control from the first officer to the captain resulted in neither pilot being able to effectively monitor the airplane’s altitude and pitch attitude. According to the Southwest Airlines Flight Operations Manual, the captain should have called for a go-around well before this point in the approach instead of trying to salvage the landing.
For example, Southwest’s stabilized approach criteria require an immediate go-around if the airplane flaps are not in the final landing configuration by 1,000 feet above the ground. In this case, the flaps were not correctly set until the airplane was 500 feet above the ground.