Southwest Airlines said it fired the captain who was at the controls of a plane that landed nose first at New York’s LaGuardia Airport in July, injuring nine people and snarling air traffic for hours.
The action came as Dallas-based Southwest completed its probe of the accident, Linda Rutherford, an airline spokeswoman, said. Southwest ordered the first officer to undergo more training, Rutherford said.
Cockpit procedure has been a focus of the US inquiry into the July 22 incident. Flight 345’s captain, a 13-year Southwest pilot, took control from the first officer just before the Boeing Co. 737 hit the runway, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, whose investigation continues.
“The question is why the captain took control,” Bill Waldock, who teaches accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, said in an interview. “Normally, unless something major is wrong, the flying pilot is going to maintain control. The flying pilot can feel what the airplane is doing. When the captain takes control, it takes him a few seconds to understand what’s happening.”
The captain, with six years in that post, had more than 12,000 flight hours, the NTSB has said. The co-pilot had been with Southwest about 18 months at the time of the accident and had 5200 flight hours. The pilots had been on administrative leave during Southwest’s inquiry.
“As a matter of policy we have not identified the pilots and we are not discussing the specifics,” Rutherford said. “We are also still in an active investigation with the NTSB.”
With its nose pointed three degrees downward, the 737-700 struck the runway first with the landing gear at the front of the plane instead of settling onto the main wheels located beneath the wings, the NTSB said in a July 25 release.
The forward gear broke, snapping rearward and damaging an electronics bay. Flight 345 was arriving from Nashville, Tennessee, and carried 150 people.