Asiana plane crash

Asiana pilot 'very concerned' ahead of fatal crash landing at San Francisco

Closure of runway systems worried captain ahead of crash, documents show

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 1:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 1:29am

The Asiana Airlines captain who crashed a Boeing 777 at San Francisco International Airport in July told investigators he was stressed out and "very concerned" about attempting a visual approach ahead of the incident, according to documents released by US aviation safety investigators.

The pilot of the flight from Shanghai via Seoul had become unnerved as the runway's automatic warning systems were out of service due to construction, according to documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board as it opened an investigative hearing in Washington into the tragedy.

The jet crash-landed after approaching low and slow in an accident that left three teenaged Chinese girls dead and more than 150 other mostly Chinese passengers injured.

"We have the opportunity today to ensure that the lessons of this tragedy are well-learned and that the circumstances are not repeated," NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said, as she opened proceedings yesterday.

Captain Lee Kang-kuk, a veteran pilot who was being trained on the Boeing 777-200ER wide-body jet, was landing the big jet for his first time at San Francisco.

He told investigators "it was very difficult to perform a visual approach with a heavy airplane", according to an NTSB report.

He did not think he could turn down the air-traffic controller's clearance to land because other pilots were accepting approaches using visual guidance instead of instruments, he said in an interview.

We have the opportunity to ensure … the circumstances are not repeated

A foreign former Boeing 777 captain at Asiana told investigators he found it "extremely difficult" to get pilots to fly visual approaches, and that they usually wanted to take off rather than land but, in clear weather, it was not unusual for pilots to make a visual approach.

As Flight 214 neared San Francisco, it was being flown by Lee, 45. Because he was so new to the 777, Lee Jung-min, 49, an instructor pilot, was monitoring him. Another pilot, Bong Dong-won, 40, was behind the other two.

While descending towards the runway, the training pilot entered a series of parameters into the flight systems that made the plane think he wanted to accelerate and climb.

To counter the plane's increase in thrust, he pulled the power back, according to the documents. Because of the way the auto-throttle had been set, combined with the fact that he had shut off the autopilot, the throttles stayed in the lowest setting, the NTSB stated.

Neither pilot noticed the plane slowing until attempting to climb seconds before the crash.

At 1.5 seconds before impact, a crew member was heard on the cockpit voice recorder suggesting they abort the landing, but it was too late.

Associated Press, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse