Five people were transported to local hospitals, two of them with serious injuries and three with minor injuries, fire officials said. Twenty-three people were treated at the scene and refused further medical attention, officials said.
Delta Flight 1086, an MD88 which had been coming from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, slid off the tarmac at the Queens airport about 11:07 a.m., airport officials said.
"It was nerve wracking," said Margaret Laney, who was flying with her husband and two small children. "The plane came down and it slipped and took an extreme left. We looked out the window and we could see that the wing was hitting a fence."
Laney made light of the crash to the children, "I told them that they had slid before, they could slide down again."
The plane, which had 127 passengers and five crew members on board, was leaking jet fuel but there were no reports of fire, sources said.
People who appeared to have been on board, including New York Giants tight end Larry Donnell, posted reports to social media about the plane.
A video posted by Larry Donnell (@beyond_greatnes) on Mar 5, 2015 at 8:23am PST
We just crash landed at LGA. I'm terrified. Please...— Jaime Primak (@JaimePrimak) March 5, 2015
The plane began its slid about 5000 feet down the 7000-foot runway and came to rest on a berm — feet short of Flushing Bay — passengers evacuating along the right wing of the plane and busing them to the Delta terminal, Patrick Foye, Port Authority director said
The director said that five minutes prior to the crash two pilots who had landed reported "good braking action." He said that the runway had just been plowed just minutes before the accident.
"I think the pilot did everything he could to slow the aircraft down, obviously the pilot and the co-pilots good efforts were reflected in the fact that there were only minor injures," Foye said.
Delta Airlines did not explain why the plane slid, but said that it "exited" the runway.
"Our priority is ensuring our customers and crew members are safe," airline officials said. "Delta will work with all authorities and stakeholders to look into what happened in this incident."
A video posted by _veeestchic_ (@_veeestchic_) on Mar 5, 2015 at 8:25am PST
Experts on aviation safety said that while what happened on Thursday is rare, 'runway excursions' like what happened at LaGuardia are the most frequent type of airplane accident.
Still the last runway excursion of a commercial airliner in the U.S. happened in Denver in 2008 and there were no major injuries, a the Aviation Safety Network database shows.
Michael Barr, an aviation safety expert at the University of Southern California, said that despite weather conditions and Thursday's incident, passengers should feel confident in their pilots.
“[It’s what] we’re trained to do,” he said.
If passengers avoided wintry conditions, "you'd never fly," Barr said. “You’d never go to the Northeast in the winter, you’d never go to Chicago,” he said.
A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board was gathering information about the incident, the federal agency said on Twitter.
Port Authority firefighters sprayed foam on the fuel, which was leaking at a rate of a gallon a minute.
Although 1 of #LGA’s 2 runways has reopened (allowing air traffic to resume), travelers should still check flight status with airline.— EWR JFK LGA SWF (@NY_NJairports) March 5, 2015
The airport had been administering a traffic management program because of the snowy weather Thursday morning, according to the FAA. That was delaying incoming flights about 2 hours and 30 minutes before the crash, officials said.
"The decision to allow planes to land, the decision of which runway is used and which approach is used is up to the FAA, obviously the Port Authority consults closely," Foye said.
It was not immediately clear why the airport was open given the weather that was hitting New York Thursday morning.
The airport was socked with freezing fog and snow that brought visibility down to within a quarter of a mile with a 9 mph wind chilling the airport to 17 degrees as of 10:50 a.m., shortly before the accident, according to a National Weather Service spokesman.
Passengers remained rattled after the accident.
"I think everybody was pretty much in survival mode," Ishmael Lateef, a passenger who was flying into the city to meet life coach Tony Robbins, said. "I think a lot of people are like, when life throws us challenges it's all about our reflexes."