Plane that landed in river changed runways before landing

Jet still resting in water

By Eric Levenson, CNN
WFOX via CNN

A plane that overran its runway and came to a stop in the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida, on Friday night is still resting in the water as authorities work to investigate why it changed runways shortly before landing.

The plane was supposed to land at Naval Air Station Jacksonville to the west into the wind, as is typical for most aircraft. But the pilots requested to instead land to the east on a different runway, NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said Sunday.

Preliminary information from the flight data recorder shows that the plane touched down at 163 knots and then had a ground speed of 178 knots, which translates to a 15-knot tailwind.

"The pilots requested to change the active runway. We don't know what they were thinking or why they made that choice," Landsberg said. "That will be one of the things we look to find out as we go through the cockpit voice recorder."

In addition, Landsberg said there was a barrier toward the end of the runway that effectively shortened its length from 9,000 feet to 7,800 feet. Further, the maintenance log noted that the left-hand thrust reverser on the aircraft was inoperative, and there are procedures to deal with that, Landsberg said.

The aircraft, a Boeing 737, overran the right side of the runway at the far end and "impacted a low seawall which was made of loose stones and rocks and stopped in the shallow water of the St. Johns River," Landsberg said.

Investigators have recovered the undamaged flight data recorder, which was sent to Washington to be examined. But the cockpit voice recorder remains in the tail of the plane and is underwater, Landsberg said Sunday.

That voice recorder will give investigators evidence of what the crew was thinking, internal discussions and how they discussed the situation with air traffic control. Landsberg said he was confident that the recorder was not damaged in the incident.

The plight of pets in cargo

There were 136 passengers and seven crew members on the flight, which left from the Guantanamo Bay military station in Cuba. Everyone survived the incident, but a few passengers sustained minor injuries, Landsberg said.

Although no people died, the bodies of two cats and a dog that belonged to a military family were recovered from the aircraft, NAS Jacksonville said on Sunday night. The organization said that they did everything possible to rescue the animals and that they will be cremated through a local company.

Each passenger that was traveling on the plane will receive $2,500 as a "goodwill gesture," CEO of Miami Air International Kurt Kamrad said in a statement.

The monetary compensation will not impact the passenger's rights, the statement said. The letter also said that passengers' baggage remains in the cargo hold of the plane, and that Miami Air will only retrieve it after the NTSB gives its authorization.

Landsberg said the aircraft will need to be defueled before it can be moved. Defueling normally happens underneath the wing of the aircraft, but because that is sitting on top of the water, holes have been drilled above the wing to get the fuel out.

Landsberg said authorities will be cautious in removing the aircraft to make sure that no fuel spills into the river.

"We're going to be very careful how we remove the aircraft because we want to preserve it and all the perishable evidence that goes along with that," Landsberg said.

All passengers who were aboard the plane have now left the naval base.

CNN's Rosa Flores and LaRell Reynolds contributed to this report.

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