U.S. air-safety investigators are looking into a mechanical failure that caused the nose of an Allegiant Airlines jet to rise off the ground prematurely before takeoff, defying the crew's attempts to push it down.

Pilots abruptly halted their roll on the runway at 138 miles per hour to regain control of the Boeing Co. MD-83 in Las Vegas on Aug. 17, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Allegiant blamed a fault in the elevator, the part of the tail that helps an aircraft to climb or descend.

"That is a very big deal," John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board who worked as an airline mechanic, said in an interview. "At very minimum, they would have had control problems. In a worst-case scenario, they would have been unable to control it. It could have been a disaster."