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Southwest pilots switched control before LaGuardia landing: investigators

A Southwest Boeing 737 aeroplane sits on the tarmac after passengers were evacuated, at LaGuardia Airport in New York, in this photo courtes
A Southwest Boeing 737 aeroplane sits on the tarmac after passengers were evacuated, at LaGuardia Airport in New York, in this photo courtes

(Reuters) - Federal investigators said on Tuesday that the two pilots of a Southwest Airlines Co jet that crash-landed at New York's LaGuardia Airport in July exchanged control of the plane shortly before landing.

The Boeing Co 737 plane was less than 400 feet off the ground when the pilots switched duties, with the captain taking the controls and the first officer monitoring the instruments, the National Transportation Safety Board said in an update on the July 22 crash.

It was the captain's first landing at LaGuardia, the NTSB said.

The plane touched down on its front landing gear which is not designed to take such weight, according to industry experts. The gear collapsed and the plane slid on it belly for 19 seconds. Nine people received minor injuries.

NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the agency would investigate why the pilots changed roles so close to the ground. She said it was too soon to tell if the change was a factor in the crash.

"It's not unusual but we don't know enough about it yet to make a determination as to whether or not this particular one was unusual," Nantel said.

Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said the airline's pilot training manual included procedures for change of control, and that the company was working with the NTSB to understand whether the switch was a factor in the accident.

The pilots are on required administrative leave during the investigation, he said. The captain is a 12-year employee with Southwest, with six years as captain and more than 12,000 flight hours, including more than 7,900 hours in a 737.

The first officer has logged 18 months with the airline and has about 5,200 flight hours, including about 1,100 hours in 737s, but with none of the hours as pilot-in-command, the NTSB said.

The NTSB said it had not found any "mechanical anomalies or malfunctions" in the plane, a 13-year-old Boeing 737-700 that Southwest said was last serviced on July 18.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; Editing by Alwyn Scott, Richard Chang and Stephen Coates)

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