NTSB Focuses on Poor Crew Decisions in LaGuardia Runway Excursion

Report indicates confusion in seconds after touchdown of Mike Pence's aircraft.

The NTSB cited a number of factors related to both cockpit crewmembers, as well as Eastern Airlines, that contributed to the October 2016 nighttime runway excursion of a chartered Boeing 737 from LaGuardia's Runway 22. The first officer was the flying pilot when the aircraft touched down nearly 2,000 feet beyond the normal landing zone after floating above the rain-soaked runway. The aircraft was traveling at 130 knots when it finally did touch at a point 4,242 feet beyond the landing threshold, but was unable to stop before the end of the 7,000-foot runway.

The Boeing entered a corner of the engineered materials arresting system at approximately 35 knots, but stopped safely with no injuries to any of the 11 crew members or 37 passengers on board, one of whom happened to be vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence. The aircraft suffered minor damage. LaGuardia weather at arrival time was a southeast wind at nine knots, a visibility of three miles in rain and a broken cloud layer at 900 feet.

In the final few seconds of the rollout, the captain failed to inform the FO that he was assuming control of the aircraft and added right rudder to try and steer the aircraft away from the EMAS. Since the captain’s efforts were unknown to the FO, that pilot simultaneously began adding left rudder in an attempt to control the aircraft.

The aircraft’s speed-brake auto-deployment system was inoperative, although accurately noted in the logbook, at the time of the landing but no other mechanical issues appear to have been involved.

The Board's final report noted that, "With the effective deceleration provided by the fully extended speed brakes, maximum wheel brakes, and reverse thrust, the flight crew would have been able to safely stop the airplane if it had touched down within the touchdown zone."

Specifically, the NTSB explained the probable cause of the excursion as “The first officer's failure to attain the proper touchdown point and the flight crew's failure to call for a go-around, which resulted in the airplane landing more than halfway down the runway. Contributing to the incident were, the first officer's initiation of the landing flare at a relatively high altitude and his delay in reducing the throttles to idle, the captain's delay in manually deploying the speed brakes after touchdown, the captain's lack of command authority, and a lack of robust training provided by the operator to support the flight crew's decision-making concerning when to call for a go-around.”

The Board learned during post-incident interviews that the captain did consider calling for a go-around, but quickly realized the moment to act had passed and told the FO to put the airplane down on the runway. The FO told the investigators, however, that he never considered a go-around because he didn’t see the deteriorating situation as abnormal at the time.

The Board also discovered, “the operator's [Eastern’s] go-around training did not include any scenarios that addressed performing go-arounds in which pilots must decide to perform the maneuver rather than being instructed or prompted to do so. Thus, the incident flight crew lacked the training and practice making go-around decisions, which contributed to the captain's and first officer's failure to call for a go-around.”

An ominous note in the Eastern Airlines ops manual said, Warning: Do not attempt to land from an unstabilized approach. The decision to go around is not an indication of poor judgment, but rather good judgment.