Airliner skids off La Guardia runway as winter storm hits US

NEW YORK CITY, USA (UPDATED) – An airliner skidded off a runway at New York's La Guardia airport Thursday, March 5, and slid to halt just yards from frigid waters, as a snow storm battered the US coast from Texas to Boston.

Heavy snow was falling as Delta flight 1086 from Atlanta careered off the runway, ploughed up an embankment and demolished a fence after its late afternoon landing.

New York firefighters said 24 people suffered non life-threatening injuries, including 3 who were transported from the scene. 

Video footage showed passengers climbing out of the plane through an exit over a wing and trudging through thick snow. The plane's nose jutted through the fence, suspended above the icy East River.  

It was the most dramatic incident on a day in which a huge winter storm forced thousands of flight cancellations, and disrupted life across a broad swath of the United States.

In Washington DC, government workers were ordered to stay home, schools were closed, and museums shuttered for the day as icy rain turned to heavy snow.

Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York were expected to get as much as 8 inches of snow, with temperatures dipping well below average in much of the region.

Airports braced for travel chaos, with more than 4,300 flights canceled by Thursday afternoon and more cancellations and delays expected. 

Poor visibility

Forecasters had warned of low visibility in New York, and some 40% of flights had been canceled at La Guardia before the accident, according to flightaware.com.

New York Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye did not say what caused the accident, only that the runway was recently cleared.  

"That runway had been plowed literally minutes before, and other pilots had reported good breaking action," he told reporters. 

Foye said the plane skidded more than 4,500 feet (1,372 meters) down the runway and that the aircraft's emergency chutes did not deploy after it hit the embankment.

But he assured there was no risk of it coming into contact with the river. 

"The plane did not make contact with the water, happily that was never a risk today," he said.  

Delta said earlier the 125 passengers and 6 crew members aboard the McDonnell Douglas MD88 plane had disembarked via aircraft slides and were moved to the terminal on buses.

"Our priority is ensuring our customers and crew members are safe," Delta said in a statement.

The airline vowed to "work with all authorities and stakeholders to look into what happened in this incident." 

There was a "minor fuel spill" after the crash that has been contained, according to Foye. 

Passengers recounted panic as the plane failed to break after landing. 

"We knew something was wrong because you didn't feel the wheels take and we started to skid," Jared Faellaci told CNN. 

"I'm definitely shaken up, I cried, shed some tears, and obviously I'm just reflective and grateful."

Another recounted her fear following the fumbled landing. 

"We just crash landed at LGA. I'm terrified. Please," passenger Jaime Primak tweeted. 

"We have all been evacuated. Everyone is safe. Thank you for your prayers. God is good." 

In a Twitter message, La Guardia airport said its runways were closed and warned travelers to expect cancellations and delays.

State of emergency 

The National Weather Service said 65 million people were under a winter storm warning, and other another 29 million were under a winter weather advisory.

In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency for the state, where some cities were pounded with 20 inches of snow. 

Southern United States was not spared – with Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico all facing weather warnings.

Forecasters said the storm's scope was not uncommon.

"For this time of year, to be impacting people in the relative deep south, it's a fairly unusual event," NWS meteorologist Bruce Terry told AFP.

He said southern states, not accustomed to winter conditions, might not be as prepared as some of their more weathered US neighbors. 

Washington and Baltimore were expecting up to eight inches of snow, with temperatures in the capital dropping to 10 Fahrenheit (-12 Celsius) by evening.

"Significant amounts of snow are forecast that will make travel dangerous. Only travel in an emergency," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cautioned for Washington and Baltimore. 

In New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, forecasters predicted as much as 7 inches of the white stuff. 

Meanwhile, freezing rain, sleet and snow was forecast in Texas, while New Mexico prepared for "hazardous" conditions. 

The storm was expected to last until early evening, Terry said, but warned cold temperatures were likely to remain. – Mariano Andrade, AFP/Rappler.com