Pilot and air traffic controller were concerned about weather before plane slid into Florida river

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Snippets from the conversation between an air traffic controller and the pilot of a plane that slid into the St. Johns River upon landing in Jacksonville, Florida Friday night may give insight into why the aircraft landed on a different runway than planned.

The military-chartered passenger plane was traveling from the Guantanamo Bay military station in Cuba and 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.

While landing, the plane slid off the runway and into the shallow part of the St. Johns River, Landsberg said Saturday at a news briefing. A barrier on the runway the plane ended up landing on shortened its length from 9,000 feet to 7,800 feet, Landsberg said.

Voice recordings between the pilot and the control tower suggest that there had been concern about bad weather in the area before the landing.

“There appears to be some light to moderate, actually moderate to heavy precipitation on the final for runway two-eight,” the controller said in air traffic control audio posted to the streaming site liveatc.net.

The pilot later offers an alternative: “Any chance … I think it looks a lot better coming from runway one-zero.”

The controller tells the pilot “both runways (are) looking pretty bad, or pretty soft and showing moderate to heavy precipitation west of the airport,” but later says the “one-zero” runway “might be best.”

The pilot confirms and responds: “Let’s do it.”

On Friday night, there was a “weak tropical disturbance” in the area, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.

“Flying around or through areas of convection can be dangerous as it can create heavy turbulence in the air and a wet runway leading to the threat of hydroplaning upon landing,” he said.

The NTSB will be investigating weather, the ungrooved runway pavement and air traffic control, as well as human aspects — including the flight and cabin crew — to determine what led to the accident.

All 143 people aboard the aircraft were rescued. Twenty-one people were taken to a nearby hospital in good condition, authorities said.

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