July 26, 2013— -- The Southwest plane that landed hard at LaGuardia Airport earlier this week touch downed on its front nose wheel before the main landing gear, causing the jet to skid more than 2,000 feet down the runway, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Under the weight of the Boeing 737, the nose gear gave away so violently that the jet's electronics bay was penetrated by the landing gear with only the right axle still attached, according to an NTSB photo released Thursday.
The nose gear of Southwest Flight 345 from Nashville, Tenn., collapsed Monday when it landed at the airport, sending the jet and its 150 passengers skidding down the runway. Flames shot out of the nose of the jet as it scraped along the asphalt.
Passengers said they felt two hard thuds as white smoke filled the cabin without warning.
NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss would not say whether pilot error contributed to the hard landing or if the nose gear should have been able to withstand the impact.
"That's something we're going to look at during the investigation," Weiss said.
Planes are supposed to land nose up with the main gear landing first. Then, the plane is supposed to gently lower the front wheels onto the runway. Southwest Flight 345 was in the proper position just four seconds before landing, but something occurred before touchdown, according to the NTSB's findings.
"The problem with landing on the nose gear is it's not anywhere near as robust as the main gear. It's never supposed to be the primary point of contact between the airplane and the runway," ABC News aviation analyst Jim Nance said.
"This is such a routine landing on such a routine airplane, that to get it wrong... this is very odd," he added.
Southwest spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said the "landing scenario that the NTSB described is not in accordance with our operating procedures."
Sixteen passengers suffered non-life threatening injuries after the rough landing and LaGuardia Airport was closed for more than an hour after the incident.