Pilot was attempting his first Boeing 777 landing at San Francisco airport, airline says
Asiana Airlines said Monday that the pilot in control of the Boeing 777 that crashed in San Francisco Saturday had little experience flying that type of plane and was landing one for the first time at that airport.
Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin told the Associated Press Monday that Lee Gang-guk was trying to get used to the 777 during Saturday's crash landing. She says the pilot had nearly 10,000 hours flying other planes, including the Boeing 747, but had only 43 hours on the 777.
Hyomin told Reuters that co-pilot Lee Jeong-min has 3,220 hours of flying experience with the Boeing 777 and a total of 12,387 hours of flying experience, and was helping his colleague with the landing.
In all, four pilots were on the plane and worked in rotating shifts during the 10-and-a-half hour flight from Seoul. The pilots were described by Asiana chief executive Yoon Young-doo Sunday as veterans, with more than 10,000 hours of flight experience. "And one pilot has 9,000, almost 10,000 hours' experience," he said.
On Sunday, a National Transportation Safety Board official said a preliminary review of recordings taken from the black boxes of an Asiana Boeing 777 flight that crash-landed into San Francisco International Airport Saturday showed that the plane was traveling “significantly” slower than normal on its descent before the crew called for more acceleration and another chance to land.
The crash killed two people and injured at least 182. The plane, traveling from South Korea slammed into the runway on Saturday morning, breaking off its tail and catching fire before slumping to a stop that allowed some passengers to flee down emergency slides into thick smoke and a trail of debris. Firefighters doused the flames that burned through the fuselage with foam and water, and police officers on the ground threw utility knives up to crew members so they could cut the seat belts of those who remained trapped as rescue crews removed the injured.
NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said during a press conference Sunday afternoon that flight crew on Asiana Airlines Flight 214 had a visible approach to the runway and put the plane’s landing gear down, according to communications heard in the cockpit voice recorder.
Hersman said the plane’s target speed for a landing was 137 knots (158 mph), and the crew had no discussion of anomalies or concerns with the way the plane was coming in for the landing.
But seven seconds before the plane hit into a seawall, one of the crew members called on the pilots to increase speed. Information from the flight data recorder said the plane was going below the target landing speed, and the engine throttles advanced.
Four seconds before impact, a “stick shaker” – a device that emits an oral and physical warning to the crew that the plane is about to stall – sounded off, Hersman said.
The crew then asked to abort the landing and make another attempt 1.5 seconds before impact.
Hersman said there were no reports of wind conditions or weather playing a role in the crash landing.
The black box recordings were taken from the plane wreckage and analyzed at a lab in Washington D.C.
Authorities are also looking into what role the shutdown of glide slope -- a pilot navigational aid -- had in the crash.
Earlier Sunday, Hersman said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that the system is a ground-based aid that helps pilots stay on course while landing and it has been shut down at the San Francisco airport since June. The pilots, however, were notified before the crash that the system wasn't available.
Aircraft security experts told Reuters that the glide slope system is not essential for routine landings, but it's not unusual for airports to disable them for maintenance reasons.
"The pilots would have had to rely solely on visual cues to fly the proper glide path to the runway, and not have had available to them the electronic information that they typically have even in good weather at most major airports," said Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who crash landed a plane in New York's Hudson River in 2009, told a CBS news affiliate, according to Reuters.
"What that means is that then the automatic warnings that would occur in the cockpit when you deviate below the desired electronic path wouldn't have been available either. So we don't know yet if that's a factor in this particular situation, but that's certainly something they'll be looking at," he said.
An NTSB team arrived Sunday at the scene of the crash to investigate.
Hersman said the NTSB is currently focusing on gathering perishable information from the accident scene and getting the airport fully operational again.
San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee said at a news conference Saturday evening that all 291 passengers and 16 crew members onboard the plane had been accounted for, but officials said 182 people were taken to area hospitals. As of Sunday, 19 people remain hospitalized with six in critical condition, one being a child.
Dr. Margaret Knudson of the San Francisco General Hospital said among the 53 people they have treated, they have seen large numbers of abdominal injuries, some spinal fractures -- with a few causing paralysis -- and patients with head trauma.
She also said they were "surprised" to see a few patients with severe road rash, describing it as when someone crashes on a motorcycle without wearing leather.
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