On the same day that a Delta Air Lines flight slid off the runway at LaGuardia Airport, snow stranded thousands of motorists in Kentucky, and record cold was in the forecast.
NEW YORK — For passengers flying into LaGuardia Airport, the New York City skyline cannot help but command attention. But for pilots, especially ones landing on Runway 13, it is the Flushing Bay that looms large.
That runway, one of two at LaGuardia, is a 7,000-foot stretch of asphalt and concrete, partially laid on steel piers that extend over the water. The runway can freeze fast in winter, but even in good weather, there is little room for error.
On Thursday, at the height of a snowstorm, Delta Air Lines Flight 1086 from Atlanta touched down on Runway 13 shortly after 11 a.m., veering out of control almost instantly.
It skidded to the left and then careened up an earthen berm, crashed through a fence and stopped just moments before plunging into the bay.
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The incident would become just one of scores of travel troubles linked to yet another winter storm ravaging the South and Northeast on Thursday. Flight cancellations piled up, and in Kentucky, thousands of motorists were stranded — some for as long as 24 hours — as a storm dumped 2 feet of snow.
None of the 127 passengers and five crew members on Flight 1086 were seriously injured, but many passengers described a few harrowing minutes.
Steve Blazejewski, who was in a window seat on the left side, said the plane felt “out of control” almost as soon as it touched down. He said it seemed to veer at an angle of about 20 degrees as it bumped along the runway.
“We were skidding forward but veering off to the left,” said Blazejewski, 39, a real-estate executive with Prudential who was traveling on business from his home in Georgia. He said he began to worry as the bay quickly got closer.
“I said to myself that we were going to go into the water,” he recounted.
He said he recalled the US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River six years ago. Then, because he was sitting next to an emergency-exit door, he said: “My next thought was: How do I get this door open?”
Blazejewski, a Navy veteran, never had to answer that question because the wing beside him was damaged. Flight attendants guided him and the other passengers to exit onto the right wing, which also was damaged, as were the plane’s nose and tail, he said.
Several other passengers took to social media even before they had escaped the plane.
“We just crash landed at LGA. I’m terrified,” Jaime Primak, a blogger and publicist, wrote on Twitter, using the airport’s abbreviation. In a second post, sent later, she wrote: “We have all been evacuated. Everyone is safe.”
Fire officials said 28 passengers had minor injuries. Five were taken to area hospitals for treatment. Fire crews at the scene contained a fuel leak.
The MD-88 aircraft was arriving from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Patrick Foye, the head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, praised the pilot’s efforts.
“I think the pilot did everything he could to slow the aircraft down,” said Foye, who also noted that the runway was plowed shortly before the plane landed.
Only minutes before the crash, he said, “Two planes landed and reported good braking actions on the runway.”
Foye would not speculate on the cause of the crash, and said the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would lead an investigation.
Foye said the plane skidded off the runway after about 4,000 feet. At the end of each runway, the Federal Aviation Administration mandates that there be an engineered materials arrestor system to stop a plane should it overshoot its landing. The plane’s wheels sink into the crushable substance to slow it down.
Flight 1086, however, veered off in the middle of the runway and was slowed from plunging into the water by an earth berm “designed to keep Flushing and Bowery bays from flooding the airport during times of tidal surge,” according to a New York state website.
A veteran Delta pilot who flies into LaGuardia frequently said the two main hazards encountered in winter landings are crosswinds and ice on the runway.
Runway 13 begins atop piers over the bay, so it “ices up really quickly, sooner than you would think,” said the pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Because it’s on those piers, it can ice up in a heartbeat.”
He said that the plane would have been moving at close to 100 mph, and that at that speed, “When you start sliding, there’s really not much you can do.”
If there was a crosswind, that would have made the situation worse, the pilot said, because it could have caused the plane to turn like a weather vane into the wind.
Delta officials did not comment on the cause of the crash and said passengers were in the process of reuniting with their friends and families.
The airport was closed shortly after the crash, causing scores of flight cancellations. One runway reopened at 2 p.m.
Weather led to other cancellations across the country. By evening, more than 4,900 flights to, from or within the U.S. had been canceled, according to FlightAware.
A cold front had dumped more than 20 inches of snow on parts of Kentucky by Thursday, and conditions worsened in the Northeast as snow started to pile up, reaching 11.5 inches and counting in the northern Maryland community of Lineboro.
The National Weather Service forecast called for record cold temperatures from Texas to Massachusetts on Friday.
Kentucky was perhaps the hardest-hit Thursday. Thousands of stranded motorists endured waits lasting nearly 24 hours for some as the storm walloped the state with up to 2 feet of snow.
Larry Weas hunkered down in his car after getting caught in a massive traffic jam along Interstate 65 near his hometown of Elizabethtown. The backup stretched for about 26 miles, from just north of Elizabethtown past Shepherdsville.
National Guard soldiers and emergency workers were dispatched to make safety checks on the travelers.
“You see miles and miles of tail ends and tail ends. It’s not a very good sight,” National Guard Spc. Jeriel Clark said as his group of soldiers handed out food and water while patrolling along snowbound Interstate 24 in far western Kentucky.
By Thursday evening, state highway officials said interstate routes in Kentucky were open again. Snow plows kept up their fast pace as dropping temperatures created the risk of icy highways.
Gov. Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency, authorizing the National Guard to help with relief efforts.
During the height of one backup in western Kentucky, more than 400 vehicles were stuck along westbound I-24 between Cadiz and Eddyville, Beshear said.
Among the stranded along I-65 were the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s wife and other members of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition staff. The group was on its way to join Jackson in Selma, Ala., for this weekend’s events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil-rights march led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There were no reports of storm-related deaths or widespread power outages in the state, Beshear said.
The National Weather Service said 15 to 20 inches of snow fell across broad swaths of western and central Kentucky.
A reported 25 inches fell near Radcliff in Hardin County, south of Louisville, the weather service said.
In western Maryland, a tractor-trailer carrying 93 head of cattle overturned Thursday on Interstate 81 in the Hagerstown area.