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Plane slides off runway in N.Y.

127 passengers evacuated; no serious injuries

NEW YORK — A Delta Air Lines flight landing at La Guardia Airport skidded off the runway and crashed over a berm and through a fence during a snowstorm Thursday morning, forcing passengers to evacuate by climbing onto a broken wing, according to officials.

There were no serious injuries among the 127 passengers and five crew members, according to the authorities. A fuel leak was quickly contained as dozens of emergency vehicles surrounded the plane.

With the airport’s runways tucked next to Flushing Bay, the Delta plane stopped just short of plunging into the water, its nose perched precariously over the frigid waters.

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Passengers described a feeling of skidding as they landed, saying that the plane veered off to the left. They said they then felt a jolt before the plane slid up the berm and crashed into the fence.

Many of those on the plane took to social media to describe a frightening scene.

“We just crash landed at LGA. I’m terrified,” wrote Jaime Primak, a blogger and publicist, on Twitter. In a second post, she wrote, “We have all been evacuated. Everyone is safe.”

Another passenger, Jared Faellaci, posted a picture to Facebook from his first-class seat looking out the window, showing how close the plane came to the bay — the waters lapping up against the snow-covered shore only yards away.

“2 seconds more we would have been in the water!” he wrote.

Patrick J. Foye, the head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, praised the efforts of the pilot.

“I think the pilot did everything he could to slow the aircraft down,” Foye said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said that the flight was Delta Air Lines 1086, an MD-88 aircraft that slid off Runway 13 after landing around 11:10 a.m. It was arriving from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where it took off shortly after 9 a.m.

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The runway was plowed shortly before the plane landed, Foye said.

At 11:05 a.m., only minutes before the crash, he said, “two planes landed and reported good braking actions on the runway.”

He would not speculate on the cause of the accident and said members of the National Transportation Safety Board would lead the investigation.

Runway 13 is 7,000 feet long, and Foye said the plane began skidding just beyond 4,000 feet. The FAA mandates that there be an engineered materials arrestor system, known as an EMAS, at the end of each runway to stop a plane should it overshoot its landing.

However, this plane 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.

Video footage showed passengers, many without coats and shivering in the cold, exiting the plane onto a broken wing and then being helped to the ground. Several passengers were taken to area hospitals to be treated for minor injuries.

A veteran Delta pilot who flies into La Guardia frequently said the two main hazards encountered in landing there in winter are ice on the runway and crosswinds.

The first part of Runway 13 sits atop piers over the bay, so it “ices up really quickly, said the pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission from Delta to speak to a reporter. He said the plane would still have been moving at close to 100 miles per hour and added at that speed, “when you start sliding, there’s really not much you can do.”

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Delta officials did not comment on the cause of the accident and said passengers were in the process of reuniting with their families.

“Our priority is ensuring our customers and crew members are safe,” the airline said in a statement.

The airport was closed shortly after the accident, causing scores of flights to be canceled. It was reopened in the afternoon.

The winter storm that slammed into New York hit states across the country, with some 52 million people from north Texas to Nantucket under a winter storm warning.