Runway braking OK, Delta pilot told before crash

A few minutes before a Delta Air Lines jet skidded off the runway at New York’s LaGuardia Airport this morning, air traffic controllers told the pilot the “braking action” on the runway was “pretty good.”

That’s revealed in the conversations between the tower and the pilot of Delta Flight 1086, posted on

Shortly after receiving clearance to land, the pilot asked for a final check of winds. But that was the end of the conversation.

It wasn’t until the tower had cleared a second plane to land that the controller looked for the Flight 1086, then had to wave off the second plane.

Had the jet not hit the berm at the end of the notoriously short runway (it’s only slightly longer than the runway at the downtown Saint Paul airport), it would’ve ended up in Long Island Sound; 125 passengers were safely evacuated.

James Fallows at The Atlantic appropriately notes the professionalism of air traffic controllers:

When this LaGuardia controller first hears that the active runway is closed, and then that the entire airport has been closed, his voice rises in pitch. But at that moment he had no way of knowing whether there was a minor mishap or whether hundreds of people had just died on impact. He goes on to juggle a complete re-ordering of plans very quickly and in relative calm. Compared with the way most people in most roles handle the unexpected, air-traffic controllers are amazingly steady—as are the flight crews too. Since most things about modern airline travel are unpleasant for most of the traveling public in most circumstances, it’s worth being reminded of how these professionals do their work.

(Tweet photo via Steven Blaze)