NTSB chairwoman defends release of information from Asiana Airlines probe

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper

The chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is defending the agency’s decision to release information about the crash of an Asiana Airlines flight in San Francisco over the weekend.

The union for commercial airline pilots had criticized federal investigators for releasing information about discussions between the pilots of the airplane in the seconds before it crash landed.

NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that the agency was just doing its job investigating the cause of the accident, which killed two passengers and injured more than 180 other people.

“One of the hallmarks of NTSB’s investigations is our transparency,” Hersman said. “We have a standard process for going to accident sites and providing briefings. Information that we release is factual in nature and it’s not subject to change throughout the course of the investigation.”

The NTSB has said thus far that the Asiana airplane was flying too slowly as it attempted to land at San Francisco International Airport. The agency has also revealed that the pilots of the airplane, which was carrying more than 300 people, discussed aborting the attempted landing seconds before the plane crashed into the ground.

The Washington, D.C.-based Air Line Pilots Association called the release of information from the voice recordings of the Asiana airplane’s cockpit “unprecedented.”

The NTSB has said that the discussions about aborting the landing were conversations between the airplane’s pilots, not official communications with air traffic control officials.

Still, the pilots union said on Tuesday that it was “stunned” by the release of information about the pilots of the airplane.

“It is imperative that safety investigators refrain from prematurely releasing the information from on-board recording devices,” the pilots’ union said. “We have seen in the past that publicizing this data before all of it can be collected and analyzed leads to erroneous conclusions that can actually interfere with the investigative process.”

Hersman defended her agency’s handling of the information it has confirmed since the Saturday crash in her interview.

“We’ve been very careful to caution people not to draw any conclusions,” she said. “We understand that there are many advocates out there for different interests, but the NTSB is an advocate for the traveling public, and part of what we do is making sure the public has confidence in our investigations.”

Hersman said she was glad the agency will be able to interview the pilots, who survived the crash.

“We’re so thankful that we have crew members to interview,” Hersman said. “The pilots can provide us outstanding observations from their experiences on the flight deck. They can tell us what was happening, what they know, and what procedures they’re following. We’ve got the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, which can give us discreet data points, but we want to get to the pilots to understand what they were thinking, what they were experiencing.”

Asiana Airlines has said that the pilot at the time of the crash, Lee Kang-guk, was training to fly the 777, though the company said he had experience on other large airplanes like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 747.

There were four pilots on board the Asiana flight because most long international flights take place with two sets of flight crews on board so pilots can rest when they are not on duty.



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