Pilot of crashed Asiana plane was in 777 training, had 43 hours' flight experience
The pilot of the crashed Asiana plane at San Francisco airport was still “in training” for the Boeing 777 when he attempted to land the aircraft under supervision on Saturday, the South Korean airline said.
Lee Kang-kook, the second most junior pilot of four on board the Asiana Airlines aircraft, had 43 hours’ experience flying the long-range jet, it said on Monday. The plane’s crew tried to abort the descent less than two seconds before it hit a seawall, bounced along the tarmac and burst into flames.
It was his first attempt to land a 777 at San Francisco, though he had flown there 29 times previously on different types of aircraft, said South Korean transport ministry official Choi Seung-youn. Earlier, the ministry said Lee had accumulated a total of 9,793 flying hours, including his 43 at the controls of the 777.
Two Chinese teenagers were killed and more than 180 injured in the crash, the first fatal accident involving the Boeing 777 since it entered service in 1995.
The plane crashed after the crew tried to abort the landing with less than two seconds to go, according to the US National Transportation Safety Board said on Sunday.
Asiana said Lee was in the pilot seat during the landing, although it was not clear whether the senior pilot, Lee Jeong-min, who had clocked up 3,220 hours on a Boeing 777, had tried to take over to abort the landing.
Information collected from the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder indicated that there were no signs of trouble until seven seconds before impact, when the crew tried to accelerate, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said at a news conference at the airport.
A stall warning in which the cockpit controls begin to shake activated four seconds before impact, and the crew tried to abort the landing and initiate what is known as a “go around” manoeuvre 1.5 seconds before crashing, Hersman said.
“Air speed was significantly below the target air speed” of 137 knots, she said. The throttle was set at idle as the plane approached the airport and the engines appeared to respond normally when the crew tried to gain speed in the seconds before the crash, Hersman added.
Video: Asiana Airlines passenger jet crashes in San Francisco
More than 30 people remained hospitalized late on Sunday. Eight were listed in critical condition, including two with paralysis from spinal injuries, according to hospital officials.
The charred hulk of the aircraft remained on the airport tarmac as flight operations gradually returned to normal. Three of the four runways were operating by Sunday afternoon.
Hersman said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the crash. The data recorders corroborated witness accounts and an amateur video, shown by CNN, that indicated the plane came in too low, lifted its nose in an attempt to gain altitude, and then bounced violently along the tarmac after the rear of the aircraft clipped a seawall at the approach to the runway.
Asked whether the information reviewed by the NTSB showed pilot error in the crash, Hersman did not answer directly.
“What I will tell you is that the NTSB conducts very thorough investigations. We will not reach a determination of probable cause in the first few days that we’re on an accident scene,” she told reporters.
Asiana said mechanical failure did not appear to be a factor. Hersman confirmed that a part of the airport’s instrument-landing system was offline on Saturday as part of a scheduled runway construction project, but cautioned against drawing conclusions from that.
“You do not need instruments to get into the airport,” she said, noting that the weather was good at the time of the crash and the plane had been cleared for a visual approach.
The Asiana flight was flying to San Francisco from Seoul with 291 passengers and 16 crew members on board. Several large groups of Chinese students were among the passengers.
People on the flight said nothing seemed amiss until moments before the crash. Pictures taken by survivors showed passengers hurrying out of the wrecked plane, some on evacuation slides. Thick smoke billowed from the fuselage and TV footage showed the aircraft gutted by fire. Much of its roof was gone.
Interior damage to the plane also was extreme, Hersman said on CNN earlier on Sunday.
“You can see the devastation from the outside of the aircraft, the burn-through, the damage to the external fuselage,” she said. “But what you can’t see is the damage internally. That is really striking.”
The NTSB released photos showing the wrecked interior cabin with oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling.