NEW YORK (AP) – A field of aerated cement blocks that crumble under the weight of an aircraft helped prevent Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence’s campaign plane from barreling off a runway and onto New York City’s busy Grand Central Parkway.
Arrestor beds have been installed at dozens of airports across the country in recent years, including in Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., and at the New York-area’s three major airports.
The system has been compared to driving a vehicle into gradually deepening snow, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates LaGuardia Airport, where Pence’s plane landed Thursday night. The collapsible blocks slope upward gradually from the ground to approximately 30 inches and can safely stop an aircraft traveling at up to 80 mph, officials said.
There have been 10 previous incidents since 1999 in the U.S. where the beds have stopped an aircraft that overran the runway, including three at nearby Kennedy Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
“It was relatively close to the Grand Central, it would have been hundreds of feet away if I had to guess and fortunately that was not in play tonight,” Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye told reporters Thursday.
The Boeing 737 carrying Pence, 36 other passengers and 11 crew members made a hard landing in a rainstorm. The pilot slammed on the brakes, and the plane, marked with running mate Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, began to slide sideways. When it stopped in the middle of the arrestor bed, passengers could smell burning rubber.
No one was injured.
The drama was captured on a recording of air traffic controller communications, posted on the website LiveATC.net.
“Eastern stop! Stop, Eastern!” an unidentified controller said, referring to the Trump plane, before immediately relaying instructions to an incoming JetBlue plane to abort a landing. Trump acquired the old Eastern Air Lines in 1989. His fleet is still identified by its former name in air traffic lingo.
“We have an issue on the airport. We have an emergency at the airport,” the controller said.
The jet came to rest amid the arrestor beds at LaGuardia’s Runway 22.
The Port Authority assisted in developing the arrestor bed technology, along with the University of Dayton and Engineered Arresting Systems Corporation (ESCO) of Logan Township, New Jersey.
Kevin Quan, vice president of sales and marketing, said the company – a subsidiary of Zodiac Aerospace – has been manufacturing arresting gear equipment for military aircraft for more than 70 years. It was asked by the FAA to help develop the arresting beds in the 1990s.
The first bed was installed at Kennedy Airport in 1996, and there has never been a failure, Quan said.
“We’re 11 for 11,” he said.
The Air Line Pilots Association says it has long been a proponent of the beds, comparing them to “seat belts, life preservers and other safety protections.”
LaGuardia is one of the nation’s busiest airports – and one of the smaller major ones, wedged between a highway and a bay.
There have been several accidents there over the years involving planes that couldn’t stop after landing on the short runways, including a near disaster last year when a Delta jet skidded off a runway and hit a berm that kept it from going into the water. That plane veered into an area that didn’t have the arrestor beds.