NTSB hints at pilot error in Asiana crash

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper

The Asiana Airlines airplane that crash landed at San Francisco International Airport was flying more than 30 knots slower than it should have been, investigators reported on Monday.

Deborah Hersman, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the Boeing 777 airplane that crashed on Saturday after a 10-hour flight from Korea was traveling at 106 knots, or nautical miles-per-hour.

The plane, which was carrying more than 300 people, should have been traveling at a speed closer to 137 knots, Hersman said.

The update in the investigation was the latest sign that the NTSB is moving toward pilot error as the cause of accident, which killed two passengers and injured more than 180 others.

Hersman on Monday said it was clear from the initial investigation into the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 that the plane was traveling too slowly.

“I can you tell you they were well below 137 [knots],” Hersman said during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It wasn’t just give or take a few knots. Once we identify exactly what their low speed was, we’re going to put that information out.”

Investigators at the NTSB are scouring through more than 24 hours of data from the Boeing 777’s flight monitoring systems and two-hours of voice recordings from the cockpit as they reconstruct the plane’s botched landing.

The pilot at the time of the crash, Lee Kang-guk, was new to flying the 777, though he has been said to have experience on other large airplanes like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 747.

Yoon Young-Doo, the president of Asiana Airlines, confirmed at a press conference on Monday that Kang-guk was learning how to fly the Boeing 777.

“For him, this was a training flight, as he was switching to a new type of plane,” Young-doo said, according to The New York Times.

Young-Doo told reporters in Korea that Kang-guk had been working for Asiana Airlines for 19 years, but he said that the Flight 214 pilot had only 43 hours of experience flying the Boeing 777.

During her news conference on Monday afternoon, Hersman said she intended to interview Kang-guk and the other three pilots who were on board Flight 214 at the time of the accident.

Most long international flights take place with two sets of flight crews on board so that pilots can rest when they are not on duty. All four pilots survived the Asiana Flight 214 crash.

Hersman also sought to put a damper on rumors that one of the two fatalities in the crash was a teenage girl who had been ejected from the airplane and then run over by an emergency response vehicle.

“The cause of death has not been determined by the San Mateo Coroner’s Office,” Hersman said, referring to the county where the airport is located.

However, the NTSB chairwoman did not rule out the possibility that the girl was killed in that fashion.

“It is a very serious issue and we want to understand it,” she said.

Hersman did confirm that the two passengers who were killed in the crash were seated in the rear of the airplane, which sustained the most damage.

News of the crash spread quickly on Saturday when passengers who escaped from the airplane began tweeting pictures of the wreckage. More than 180 of the passengers were hospitalized with injuries, in addition to the two deaths.

Hersman made clear on Monday that reports of discussion between the on-duty pilots about aborting the airplane’s initial landing attempt at the San Francisco airport were based on conversations between the pilots, not communication with airport or Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials.

Hersman has said that the pilot of Asiania Flight 214 had discussed a “go-around,” which is the formal term for aborting a landing attempt and trying again, 1.5 seconds before the airplane hit the ground.

Members of Congress said they are awaiting the results of the NTSB investigation, and have vowed to take any necessary steps to bolster air safety once the cause of the crash is known.

“The United States’ aviation system is the safest in the world, but as Saturday’s incident demonstrates, we must always remain vigilant and work to ensure the system remains as safe as possible,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), the panel’s aviation subcommittee chairman, in a joint statement.



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